MORGANTOWN -- It shaped our history. It charts our future.
It's the U.S. Constitution, and on Monday West Virginia University is joining with other schools and public entities across the country for the day that celebrates the document by which our country is governed: Constitution Day.
A forum hosted by WVU's College of Law will explore the social and political significance of judicial independence as envisioned under the Constitution.
At the same time, student-teachers from the College of Human Resources and Education will hand out laminated copies of the document in public school classrooms across north-central West Virginia.
"Judicial independence is at the heart of our constitutional democracy," law professor Caprice Roberts said. Roberts will lead the 12:45 p.m. forum in the law school's Lugar Courtroom with fellow professor Gerald Ashdown.
A unique video of Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O'Conner, Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer discussing the import of judicial independence will be screened, then Roberts and Ashdown will engage the audience on the justices' views and insights.
"The Framers structured the Constitution to ensure the separation of power among the Executive, Congress and Judiciary," Roberts said. "In order to maintain judicial independence, it is imperative that the judiciary be free from unconstitutional encroachments by other branches of government."
A history of the holiday
While the Constitution was configured to remain vital over the centuries, the holiday that was originally set aside to honor it didn't fare as well - until a certain senior senator from West Virginia took up the mantle.
Constitution Day was meant to celebrate the document's Sept. 17, 1787, signing, but it had fallen into obscurity over the generations - so much so, in fact, that the holiday doesn't even appear on a lot of calendars today.
Enter U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va.
Byrd, who carries a copy of the document in his breast pocket daily, is known in Washington circles and to C-SPAN viewers as a formidable constitutional scholar. Two years ago, he fathered a law by Congress designed to give a little heft to the all-but-invisible holiday.
As his communications director Tom Gavin said at the time: Byrd was growing more worried about a country whose citizens seem to know more about "American Idol" than American government.
WVU's "Pride of West Virginia" Mountaineer Marching Band provided the soundtrack in Washington, D.C., last September as the newly revamped holiday was launched back into the public arena.
The Congressional law aligned to jump-start the holiday requires that every one of the country's 1.8 million or so federal employees receive educational materials about the Constitution, and that every school that receives federal funds, including colleges and universities, present a program or event on or around the holiday.
Byrd said the Constitution remains as relevant in the 21st century as it ever was.
"Without constant study and renewal of our knowledge of the Constitution and its history, we are in peril allowing our freedoms to erode," he said. "If we fail to understand the importance of the checks and balances between Congress, the Supreme Court and the Executive Branch, will not be in a position to know when these checks are threatened."