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The U.S. Constitution And You



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  • 1. The U.S. Constitution and You Rodney C. Nanney, AICP Building Place
  • 2. Warning
    • This class is not intended to provide a comprehensive legal education on the U.S. Constitution
    • Rather, it is intended to be a fly-by survey of a few selected portions of the document
    • Focused on a few points of intersection with individuals “on the ground”
  • 3. Agenda
    • Introduction and Welcome
    • 1st Amendment (religion, speech, press, petition, assembly)
    • 5th Amendment (taking of property)
    • Examples of One Person’s Impact on the Constitution
    • What can I do right now?
    • Questions and Wrap up
  • 4. Thank You!
    • Thank you to Rebecca Dunkle, Monica Prince and everyone associated with the Ypsilanti Senior Center for inviting us to be here tonight!
      • Please consider a donation to the Ypsilanti Senior Center, 1015 Congress, Ypsilanti, MI 48197
    • Some information for this presentation has been adapted from “ The Citizen’s Constitution ” by Seth Lipsky
  • 5. About Rodney C. Nanney
    • Professional community planning, zoning, and local economic development consultant
    • Author/editor of multiple zoning ordinances and ordinance updates
    • Author of the “Building Place Notebook” online newsletter
    • American history aficionado
    • NOT an Attorney or a Judge
  • 6. About Handouts and More
    • View Presentation Online at:
      • On Thursday (4/8), there will be a link to the presentation materials on the homepage and in the “Building Place Notebook” online newsletter
      • Also - download the slideshow handout
  • 7. George Washington said…
    • “ A primary object… should be the education of our youth in the science of government.
    • In a republic , what species of knowledge can be more equally important?
    • And what duty more pressing…than communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country? ”
  • 8. 1st Amendment
    • Congress shall make no law respecting:
      • an establishment of religion , or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;
      • or abridging the freedom of speech , or of the press ;
      • or the right of the people peaceably to assemble , and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
  • 9. Religious Freedom
    • (M)ake no law respecting an establishment of religion , or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….
  • 10. Separation of Church and State?
    • This concept originated :
      • Not in the plain wording of the U.S. Constitution
      • Not in the Bill of Rights
      • Not in the Federalist Papers or other writings of the Constitutional Convention delegates
    • It was taken out of an 1802 letter written by Thomas Jefferson, who did not take part in the writing of the Constitution!
  • 11. 1802 Letter to the Danbury Baptist Assn.
    • “ Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God,
      • that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship,
      • that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions ,
    • I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘ make no law respecting an establishment of religion , or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”
  • 12. Separation of Church and State?
    • One reading of Jefferson’s letter suggests that the “wall of separation” was
      • not to expunge religion from the public square;
      • but rather to restrict the potentially oppressive reach (or influence) of the federal government into the area best kept “solely between Man & his God.”
    • Freedom of religion, not from religion
  • 13. Separation of Church and State?
    • “ What a strange notion that a Constitution which itself gives ‘religion in general’ preferential treatment (would also) forbid endorsement of religion in general.”
    • “ That was not the view of those who adopted our Constitution , who believed that the public virtues inculcated by religion are a public good .” ( Justice Scalia )
  • 14. Freedom of Speech
    • (M)ake no law abridging the freedom of speech ….
  • 15. Freedom of Speech
    • An example closer to home….
  • 16. Freedom of Speech
    • Yard Signs
  • 17. City of Ypsilanti Sign Standards
    • No permit is required for “signs advocating or opposing a candidate for public office or a position on an issue to be determined at an election” as follows:
      • At polling places, on election day only, erected no less than 100 feet from the entrance of the polling place. Such signs may be located on the city right-of-way….
      • Such signs shall not be located on any right-of-way except as permitted (above-only on election day)
      • That the signs be removed within seven days following the final election regarding the candidate or position
  • 18. Ypsilanti Twp. Sign Standards
    • Political campaign signs : Signs announcing the candidacy of persons running for public office or issues to be voted upon at an election and other information pertinent thereto may be erected:
      • not more than 30 days prior to an election
      • and shall be removed within ten days after the election to which they pertain.
      • Such signs shall not exceed 16 square feet in area.
  • 19. Superior Twp. Temp. Sign Stds.
    • Such signs shall be removed…within seven (7) calendar days following completion or discontinuation of the event, action or activity to which the sign pertains.
  • 20. Sign Rules & the 1st Amendment
    • [Fehribach v. City of Troy, MI (2004)]
      • “ Government regulation of expressive activity is content neutral so long as it is justified without reference to the content of the regulated speech.”
      • “ (The 1st) Amendment affords special protection to speech in the home , the Supreme Court has accorded special “reverence” to yard signs , holding that the available alternatives to yard signs are not ‘adequate alternatives.’”
  • 21. Sign Rules & the 1st Amendment
    • [Fehribach v. City of Troy, MI (2004)]
      • “ (Restrictions on) the number of political signs and…the time election signs could be displayed, were clearly content-based because they only applied to signs containing content which was political .”
      • “ Notably, the City’s housing inspector first had to determine what (the) sign referred to before he could (determine) that the sign was in violation….”
  • 22. Sign Rules & the 1st Amendment
    • [Fehribach v. City of Troy, MI (2004)]
      • A content-based speech restriction is constitutional if the “regulation is necessary to serve a compelling state interest and… is narrowly drawn to achieve that end.”
      • City said : A proliferation of signs:
        • unduly distracts motorists and pedestrians,
        • mars the appearance of the community, restricts light and air, and
        • negatively affects property values.
  • 23. Sign Rules & the 1st Amendment
    • [Fehribach v. City of Troy, MI (2004)]
      • Court ruled in favor of the resident :
        • “ Although ‘safety’ and ‘aesthetics’ are substantial government interests, (but) are not compelling enough to justify content-based restriction on fully-protected, noncommercial speech.”
        • “ (R)esidents have the same strong incentive to keep their property values up (without regulation) and to prevent visual clutter in their yards and neighborhoods as does the city.”
  • 24. What Does This All Mean?
    • No permit or fee should be necessary to put up any political, opinion, or election-oriented sign in your yard
    • Time limits (“30 days before an election”) cannot be enforced .
      • Such signs can be displayed for any length of time, as long as they are kept in good repair and taken down immediately after the event
    • You must respect maximum sign area, height, and location requirements
      • Keep your sign out of the road right-of-way!
  • 25. Freedom of Speech
    • Respect your neighbor’s constitutional right to display yard signs
    • Ask those you know to do the same
    • There is no excuse for kidnapping yard signs!
  • 26. Freedom of the Press
    • (M)ake no law abridging the freedom…of the press ….
  • 27. Freedom of the Press Where is the line between a “ blog ” and “ the press ”?
  • 28. Freedom to Assemble
    • (M)ake no law respecting the right of the people peaceably to assemble ….
  • 29. Freedom to Petition the Gov’t
    • (M)ake no law respecting the right of the people…to petition the Government for a redress of grievances .
  • 30. Freedom to Petition the Gov’t
    • Write a letter;
    • Send a fax or email;
    • Speak at a meeting or public hearing;
    • Make an appointment and meet with an elected official;
    • Create and circulate a petition on an issue you’re concerned about; or
    • Sign a petition someone else has created
  • 31. Eminent Domain
    • Eminent domain is:
      • The power to take land for a public use in exchange for reasonable compensation
        • Typically defined as fair market value
        • Using "condemnation" process in court
    • Part of the 5th Amendment :
      • “… nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation .”
  • 32. What is a “Public Use?”
    • Classic Definition :
      • New roads and freeways, and road widening projects;
      • New public parks, public utility transmission lines or pipelines, bicycle paths, county drain improvements; and
      • Other projects planned and constructed by government or public utilities.
  • 33. Susette Kelo’s House
  • 34. Supreme Court Redefines
    • “ Kelo v. City of New London, CT” (2005)
    • At issue : Whether the the City of New London’s intention:
      • to take privately owned residences and businesses,
      • to clear and re-sell the land to a private developer; and
      • to redevelop the land for the benefit of other private businesses, including PFIZER
    • actually constitutes a “ public use .”
  • 35. Supreme Court Decision
    • “ Kelo v. City of New London, CT” (2005)
    • OK to condemn and take Susette Kelo’s home solely for economic development/redevelopment
    • “ The Court will not substitute its judgment for (local plans) as to what constitutes ‘public use’ unless the use is palpably without reasonable foundation .”
  • 36. The Result?
  • 37. Kelo II: The States Strike Back
    • When the federal government goes too far:
    • “ The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result.” (Justice O’Connor)
    • Within days of the decision, 43 states, including Connecticut, began moving to nullify the decision through state reforms
      • Michigan had already dealt with this issue in a previous state Supreme Court decision
    • It is now harder to redevelop urban land after “Kelo” despite the Court’s intention
  • 38. One Person’s Impact
    • John Adams wrote or served as a “consultant” for the creation of many state constitutions for the original 13 states after the Declaration of Independence
    • The position of “President” was established by delegates who fully expected George Washington to be the first to hold the office
    • Ratification of the 19th Amendment (women’s suffrage) in 1920 rested on the decision of one representative in the Tennessee state house…
  • 39. One Vote - 19th Amendment
    • By July 1920, it appeared that the amendment might fail by one vote in Tennessee, but…
    • Twenty-four-year-old Harry Burns surprised observers by casting the deciding vote for ratification.
    • At the time of his vote, Burns had in his pocket a letter he had received from his mother urging him, “Don't forget to be a good boy” and “vote for suffrage.”
  • 40. One Person’s Impact
    • 27th Amendment
    • “ No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”
  • 41. One Person - 27th Amendment
    • Originally proposed in 1789 as part of the Bill of Rights, but not ratified
    • Ignored/forgotten for more than 200 years
    • In 1982, U of Texas college student Gregory Watson was doing research…
      • Found that the amendment had no expiration - it could still be ratified
      • Wrote to state legislators across the U.S. - the result was a new amendment!
  • 42. You Can Make a Difference
    • Speak out (respectfully) at public meetings
    • “ Petition” government officials via letter, email, or fax about an issue or bill
    • Join a political party or attend a peaceful political gathering or event
    • Become a precinct delegate or serve as an local election worker
    • Volunteer to serve on a board or commission
    • Help out or donate to a political campaign
  • 43. You Can Make a Difference
    • Run for office!
      • Township board or “parks commission”
      • District library board
      • City council
      • County commission
      • State legislature
      • ____________________________
  • 44. You Can Make a Difference
  • 45. Questions?
    • Rodney C. Nanney
    • [email_address]
    • (734) 985-0540
    • View Presentation Online at:
      • On Thursday (4/8), there will be a link to the presentation materials on the homepage and in the “Building Place Notebook” online newsletter
      • Also - download the slideshow handout