Renowned Legal Scholar Mary Anne Franks Delivers 41st Tresolini Lecture
Activist and legal scholar Mary Anne Franks practically delivered the 41st Tresolini Lecture on Thursday, encouraging listeners to reflect on what it means to honor the Constitution and how the nation has handled different interpretations of the document over the years.
“I speak of the dangers of bad faith and the Constitution, particularly in terms of using the Constitution to cover up one’s special preferences,” said Franks, law professor and Michael R. Klein Distinguished Scholar Chair at the University of Miami. “I am particularly concerned about the extent to which our present historical moment has become one of constitutional extremism.”
Franks, also an award-winning author and nationally and internationally recognized expert at the interface between civil rights and technology, gave the lecture entitled “The Faithless Constitution: Rights and Responsibilities in the 21”.NS Century.”
Their presentation coincided with Constitution Day, which commemorates the signing of the US Constitution on September 17, 1787 in Philadelphia.
“Today, many years later, we are still ruled by the same document and still thinking about making American democracy more effective,” said Brian Fife, professor and chairman of the Lehigh Department of Political Science, in his introduction.
Franks recalled historical and recent events in which constitutional interpretations harm society. She referred to the case of Rosika Schwimmer, a Hungarian-born pacifist and feminist who moved to the United States in 1921 to escape prejudice in her own country and establish herself as a journalist.
But Schwimmer was hindered by their beliefs. Her application for citizenship was denied in 1924 because she refused to confirm that she would carry arms in defense of the United States. She appealed and won, but the Supreme Court ruled against her in 1929.
Judge Pierce Butler wrote for the majority, saying Schwimmer’s refusal to take up arms disqualified her for citizenship. Her claim of a “cosmic sense of belonging to the human family” suggested that she lacked nationalism and therefore was unable to remain loyal to the United States.
Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes filed a memorable disagreement in Schwimmer’s favor, emphasizing the importance of tolerance for dissidents and political speeches.
Although Schwimmer stayed in the United States for the rest of her life, she was considered stateless.
Franks also highlighted the January 6 uprising, when protesters, including those who call themselves the “Oath Guardians”, came to the US Capitol to protest the election of President Joseph Biden. “They call themselves the Oath Guardians because they intend to invoke the Constitutional Oath – that is, to protect the Constitution, to defend it against all enemies at home and abroad,” said Franks.
“They knew they wanted to overturn President Donald Trump’s defeat in the 2020 presidential election. They felt they should disrupt the joint session of Congress that had come together to count the votes and formalize Joe Biden’s victory. “
The moment is exceptional not only for the event itself, Franks said, but also because the same constitution that Swimmers calls a threat as a pacifist is being held up to paint protesters who want to take up arms as patriots against their own government .
“We know this is not just a fleeting feeling from some members of the public, but a feeling that is now coming from some of the highest political offices in our country,” she said.
What does this mean for those who want to remain loyal to the Constitution but despise the events of January 6th?
“Transcendence and scriptures give us the idea that it is not about who we are or what we want, but about a higher power, a higher power that can no longer be questioned once we have called upon it” said Franks.
Instead of adopting this stance, she suggested that listeners critically examine their own actions and wonder if they were trying to make an exception for themselves or a group with which they identify.
She recalled the words of the late Congressman John Lewis when he said, “Democracy is not a state. It is an act and each generation must do its part to build what we have called the beloved community, a nation and world at peace with itself. “
The Constitution is not divine, fixed or infallible, but rather a flawed document written by flawed people that excludes groups of people who are ignorant, wealthy or male, Franks said.
“But better men and women have changed it since then, they improved it, they fought for it,” said Franks. “On Constitution Day and every day, we can honor and imitate these people. These are the people who stand up for the weak, the sick, the excluded and the exploited. They risk their reputation, their safety and their lives to hold those in power accountable. ”
The Rocco J. Tresolini Lectureship in Law was established in 1978 in memory of Rocco Tresolini (1920-1967), one of Lehigh’s most distinguished teachers and scholars who served as professor and chairman of the Department of Government.
Franks is the latest in a long line of luminaries to deliver the Tresolini Lecture, including journalist Carl Bernstein, public intellectual Cornel West, former US Attorney General Janet Reno, late US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the former Watergate-era White House attorney John Dean, Busch v. High Attorney David Boies and the founder of the Innocence Project, Barry Scheck.
Franks wrote the award-winning book, The Cult of the Constitution: Our Deadly Devotion to Guns and Free Speech. Last year she received a Knight Foundation grant to research her second book, Fearless speech, is expected to appear in 2022.
Your work is in the. appeared Harvard Law Review, the California Law Review and UCLA legal review. She also authored numerous articles for publications such as the New York Times, The Atlantic, The Washington Post and News week.
Franks holds a JD from Harvard Law School and PhD and Masters degrees from Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar. She previously taught at the University of Chicago Law School as a Bigelow Fellow and Lecturer in Law and at Harvard University as a Lecturer in Social Studies and Philosophy.
She teaches courses on criminal law, criminal procedure law, first additional law, second additional law, family law and technology.
Franks is also a member of the Affiliate Faculty of the Philosophy Institute at the University of Miami and a member of the Yale Law School Information Society Project.