What are we defending, and from whom?

By Jeff R. Hawkins, ISBA President 2014-15

Naturalization Ceremony

Naturalization Ceremony

A few hundred of my fellow citizens and I shared the privilege of witnessing 64 people’s first citizenship moment on Monday, Dec. 15, 2014, during a naturalization ceremony at in the beautiful Grand Hall of Union Station in downtown Indianapolis. The inspirational experience punctuated the two-day ‘We the People’ high school state competition, in which some of Indiana’s brightest high school students presented constitutional theory essays and defended their essays to panels of volunteer judges.

The Honorable Larry J. McKinney, Senior Judge of the US District Court for Southern Indiana, presided over the naturalization ceremony and then addressed the crowd with reflections that he had developed over the previous twenty-four hours while he and I served together on one of the panels judging ‘We the People’ presentations.

Judge McKinney pointed out to the crowd that many lawyers participated or were present during the ceremony. He suggested that lawyers’ presence in the event was significant because lawyers defend the liberty that makes American citizenship so desirable.

The judge asked the crowd rhetorically what they thought made the United States Constitution so special. He then offered his belief that the Constitution enables the people to govern themselves.

The judge also reflected on the oaths of office that lawyers and government officials recite before taking office. He again asked a rhetorical question about what threat an oath addresses when someone swears to defend the Constitution. Judge McKinney may have used different words than this, but I took as his point that we swear to defend the Constitution from those who would interfere with its function.

The notion that I swore to defend the Constitution from people who would interfere with it connected  me to the visage of those sixty-four hands in the air while people disavowed allegiance to other governments and committed themselves to the United States of America. If the Constitution defends those people, and if I swore to defend the Constitution, then I now have sixty-four new people in Indiana who rely on lawyers and judges to defend the new citizenship that they now claim. What a great honor and responsibility it is to uphold and defend the Constitution and the people – WE the people!

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