In the summer of 1942, two law professors at the University of Pennsylvania penned a prescient article in the Bill of Rights Review. It opened this way:
“Seldom, if ever, in the past, has one individual or group been able to shape the course, over a period of time, of any phase of our vast body of constitutional law. But it can happen, and it has happened here. The group is Jehovah's Witnesses."
When professors John Mulder and Marvin Comisky wrote this piece, Jehovah's Witness, a persecuted but also assertive religious minority in America at the time, had already brought several First Amendment cases before the Supreme Court. But some of its greatest victories were still ahead—victories like the decision in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, in which the court ruled in the group's favor that compelling students to say the Pledge of Allegiance and salute the flag violated their rights to free speech and free exercise of religion.
By the end of World War II, Jehovah's Witnesses would argue nearly two dozen First Amendment cases at the Supreme Court. Their body of litigation would pressure the court to better define, and elevate, the role of personal liberty protections in American law.
As Sarah Baringer Gordon, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, puts it: Jehovah's Witnesses "brought into existence a new constitutional world."
In the penultimate episode, we examine the fascinating story of how this marginalized group was able to so powerfully transform First Amendment law. Gordon is a special guest on the episode alongside Julie Silverbrook, executive director of the Constitutional Sources Project.
How should the Constitution's privacy protections be translated for a new era? This is a question before the Supreme Court today, but it was also a question that captivated a justice appointed to the Supreme Court 100 years ago — Louis Brandeis.
Monday, January 15, 2018
In the "Constitutional" finale, we address listener questions about the history--and future--of the nation's governing document.
Monday, February 12, 2018