A special day will be celebrated on Tuesday, September 17 by “We the People” – Constitution Day. It is the opportunity to commemorate the signing of the United States Constitution on September 17, 1787. This hand-written, four-page document has withstood the test of time, remains the highest law in the land, organizes our system of government and sets forth the fundamental rights and freedoms that define us as Americans.
In 1940, Congress passed a joint resolution authorizing and requesting the President to issue a proclamation each year to recognize all who attained the status of American citizenship. The designation for this day was “I Am An American Day.” In 1952, Congress repealed the joint resolution and passed a new law designating September 17 as “Citizenship Day,” urging civil and educational authorities to make plans to observe the day and “for the complete instruction of citizens in their responsibilities and opportunities as citizens of the United States and of the State and locality in which they reside.” In 2004, Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia led Congress to rename the holiday as “Constitution Day and Citizenship Day” and required all government-funded schools and federal agencies to provide educational programs to promote a better understanding of the Constitution.
This day reminds us of our responsibility as citizens to be informed and engaged, to take an active role in civic life locally and nationally, and to educate our children of our responsibility to understand and appreciate our Constitution and the rights and duties of citizenship.
To celebrate Constitution Day, members of the South Florida federal judiciary will be participating in programs at each of our federal courthouses. In Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, judges will be hosting over 200 high school students, and have planned activities with the Federal Bar Association that include discussions about our rights and responsibilities, participation in Naturalization Ceremonies and pocket Constitutions distributed to all in attendance. In Miami, we are partnering with History Miami Museum and the students will take part in the Museum’s “We the People” program, during which students will further explore what it means to be a United States citizen.
One of my greatest privileges as a United States District Judge is the opportunity to preside over Naturalization Ceremonies held in our federal courthouses. Judges routinely preside over these ceremonies, sharing their thoughts and perspectives and welcoming our newest citizens as they take their oath to join our American family. Constitution Day will be another opportunity to emphasize the importance of understanding our rights and responsibilities, including the rights of each citizen to vote and serve on a jury when summoned.
In his 2016 Proclamation, former President Barack Obama reflected on the essential work of citizenship when he wrote:
“Being a citizen is a responsibility that challenges each of us to stay informed, to speak out when something is not right or not just, and to come together to shape the course our country will take. Citizenship is a commitment, calling on us to stand up for what we believe in and to exercise our rights to protect the rights of others. The Bill of Rights and other amendments added in the decades that followed have paved the way for progress, and they embody a truth held since our founding: the simple but powerful idea that people who love their country can change it for the better.”
In the federal courts, we are proud to be a part of educating our youth and new Americans about their roles as citizens, helping to foster a greater understanding of our Constitution and the role civic responsibility plays in our society. Knowing our basic rights as American citizens safeguards our democracy, encourages informed and civil debate, and allows us to continue in our effort to form a ‘More Perfect Union.’
United States District Judge
Southern District of Florida