In the News

Constituting America

State officials honor 222-year-old document in an educational event

By Phil Ray for the Altoona Mirror
September 17, 2009

HOLLIDAYSBURG – The U.S. Constitution is a “living document,” a point driven home by coincidence during Wednesday afternoon’s Constitution Day celebration on the front patio of the Blair County Courthouse.

Bedford County District Attorney William Higgins was expected to explain the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution to a large group of Hollidaysburg Area High School students who are studying the 222-year-old document as part of their civics and government classes.

The Fourth Amendment protects citizens “against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

Higgins, however, was unable to attend the discussion, attorney Tim Burns of Ebensburg said, because he was busy obtaining a search warrant from a judge.

Burns filled in for Higgins, explaining to the students that probable cause is needed before a judge can authorize a search warrant.

One of the principal speakers Wednesday was Judge Marjorie Rendell, Gov. Ed Rendell’s wife, who sits on the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.

She said she deals every day with the words written in the U.S. Constitution.

Speedy trial, double jeopardy, cruel and unusual punishment, search warrants and equal protection of the laws, Rendell said, are addressed in the Constitution and involved in cases she is currently deliberating.

Blair County Judge Hiram A. Carpenter expressed it in a different way, stating that in thinking about the Constitution one day, he realized how it affects our everyday lives.

Carpenter said before he left for work one morning, he opened the closet and spied his wife’s rifle. He thought: “the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms.”

He bought a newspaper: the First Amendment right of freedom of speech.

He went to his office to prepare for jury trial.

He went to church: freedom of worship.

“It seemed like I couldn’t do anything in my life without mentioning a part of the Constitution. … Yeah, it has meaning in our everyday life. Don’t think of it as a dead document. It is around every day,” Carpenter told the students.

Hollidaysburg teachers Don Imler and Mike Rawlings have organized the Constitution Day ceremony for their students for the past five years. The day’s events include explanations by the students and practicing attorneys of each article and each of the 27 amendments to the Constitution.

Rendell supports schools teaching civics and government. She was part of a Civics First Bus Tour, in which state officials visit schools.

On Wednesday, Rendell also visited Hollidaysburg Area Senior and Junior High schools and Longer and Foot of Ten elementary schools.

Teaching the Constitution, she said, is needed for the protection of our democracy. She said she was pleased with what she saw from Hollidaysburg students in their efforts to learn about government and the Constitution.

Rebecca Sommers, a Hollidaysburg senior, has been participating in the event for three years and said she has learned a lot.

“It’s interesting,” fellow senior Kaylee Westover said .

Liz Fry, a junior, said, “We learn about the Constitution in class. We read over it. The history and how it came about is interesting.”