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Article for The Houston Lawyer
July 14, 1987
Reflections on the Constitution
The nation's only black Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall, gave a speech
recently which sparked much discussion and debate. In speaking of the 200th
anniversary celebration of the United States Constitution, Mr. Justice Marshall said,
"The focus of this celebration invites the complacent belief that the vision of those
who debated and compromised in Philadelphia yielded the 'more perfect union' it is
said we now enjoy. I cannot accept this invitation, for I do not believe that the
meaning of the Constitution was forever 'fixed' at the Philadelphia Convention. Nor
do I find the wisdom, foresight and sense of justice exhibited by the framers
particularly profound. To the contrary the government they devised was defective
from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social
transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for
the individual freedoms and human rights, we hold as fundamental today. When
contemporary Americans cite "the Constitution," they invoke a concept that is vastly
different from what the framers barely began to construct two centuries ago."
I considered thoughtfully what the Justice had said and recalled my own words
spoken during the impeachment proceedings of Richard Nixon. I had said, "We the
People" is an eloquent beginning to the Constitution. But, for a long time I had
thought the framers left me out by mistake. However, through the process of
amendment and court action I have finally been included in "We the People." I then
added, "My faith in the Constitution is whole. It is complete. It is total." That was
my faith in 1974 and it remains my faith in 1987.
I celebrate the bicentennial of the Constitution and do not believe that to be a
celebrant you must believe that the meaning of the Constitution was forever fixed at
the Philadelphia Convention. I couldn't believe that. I know it was no mistake to
leave women and blacks out of the Constitution. It was a deliberate omission.
The original language of Article I, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the Constitution
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Jordan, Barbara, 1936-1996. Reflections on the Constitution, article, July 14, 1987; (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth616608/m1/1/: accessed May 13, 2021), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Southern University.