Senator Lankford Highlights Importance of US Constitution on Senate Floor
CLICK HERE to view Lankford’s floor speech.
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) spoke on the Senate floor today in reverence of our most enduring governing document, the US Constitution, following Constitution Day. Lankford discussed the power and uniqueness of our system of government and how vital our Constitution is to maintaining our national identity and rule of law, protecting the rights we hold dear, and ensuring our nation does not fall to tyranny.
September 17, 1787, this grand experiment was finalized to be able to try to form what they considered a more perfect union, and the birth of our Constitution happened. This was a radical experiment in self-government that most of the rest of the world at the time stared at what we call our Founding Fathers now and thought, ‘That will never work. That’ll never work.’
It wasn’t a parliamentary system. It wasn’t a monarchy. It was a representative republic, and it was pulling something out of the thoughts and the hearts of people to say, ‘This is inherently what we think would work.’ Beginning with the simple concept of checks and balances, that one person would check another person, would check another person and to be able to put that into a governmental structure. To have three coequal branches, an Executive, the Legislative, the Judicial Branch, that we don’t have one over the other. They stand on equal footing between the three. And each of them watches the other. And the unique system of even putting a Legislative Branch together. A Legislative Branch that has one body made of the House of Representatives that will be large, that will be boisterous, that will be up for election every two times in the most painful parts of government—that is required of government—is put into the hands of the people that are closest to the people. That is the power of impeachment, the power of the purse, the power of things that need to be done by government but can only be done by people that are closest to the government. And then to be able to create a Senate with a longer-term, closer to the states, more of a larger perspective on how we would structure together to make sure that we protect the rights of the individual states and the uniqueness of, at that time, those 13 states all joining together.
It was a radical idea and a complete shift from where we’d just been, because as Americans, occasionally we forget, this wasn’t our first time to try to put a government together. We had, prior to 1787, Articles of Confederation that basically had 13 different states very loosely connected to each other that continued to be able to spar with each other that didn’t cooperate together, and eventually, they had to determine, ‘We’ve got to do something different.’ So after our practice round of the Articles of Confederation, we put together this Constitution. But even immediately after the Constitution was put into place, when the very first Congress came into session, they immediately began work on 12 amendments that at that time they called, ‘the Bill of Rights.’ That’s right, 12 amendments. We’re so used to hearing about the 10 amendments of the Bill of Rights; they started with 12. And they debated and they edited and they worked it through, and that 12 ended up becoming 10.
Those 10 amendments were added as our Bill of Rights, but we continue to be able to edit and be able to work together as a country. Eventually we fought a civil war. One of the most tragic parts of our entire nation’s history. But this Constitution still kept us together at the end. And we still function together.
Since that original 10 Bill of Rights, we’ve added 17 more different amendments to the Constitution. And this enduring document after more than two centuries continues to be the foundation of every single law in the United States. It is unlike many parts of the world even still today. That in much of the world, they change constitutions every time their monarch changes. They change constitutions every time their government changes. And when an executive branch decides they don’t like particularly what’s happening in the legislative branch, they just demand a new constitution and shift the entire laws of the entire country. We don’t.
We started with a Constitution and have started with this simple principle that the law matters. And we continue to build on that basic law, and when our preferences change, the law still exceeds our preferences. And if there is a change that we need to do in law, we agree together to be able to make a change in law. And we still continue to respect the uniqueness of now all 50 states and of local authorities.
See, we still have counties and cities and parishes and municipalities. They oversee school boards. They make day-to-day decisions. They provide local first responders, there’s garbage collecting, recycling, public transportation, parks, and recreation, they manage utilities, they decide street names, they deal with local roads and street signs and zoning laws. It’s all done locally, it is not done federally. The federal government has nothing to do with that. And then just larger than the local municipalities, we’ll have states. They establish local governments. They establish public schools and issue teaching certificates and licenses for professionals like doctors and lawyers, psychiatrists, as many different types of professions as they choose. They decide the time, manner, and place of elections because that’s the responsibility of the states. They determine motor vehicle registrations and drivers’ licenses and marriage licenses, business licenses. They regulate commerce within their state because our simple system is not only broken up into three different branches of government, but it’s broken up into local governments, state governments, and unique responsibilities for the federal governments, beginning with our national defense that is uniquely a role that we can do together, as a federal government. Interstate commerce, managing treaties with foreign entities, it’s the responsibility of the large government.
This unique experiment that was radical in its day is still the envy of the world to this day, and there is a reason that we pause each year in September and remember Constitution Day.
I think about how often we celebrate the Declaration of Independence, every fourth of July. Thomas Jefferson in his writing and all the editing that happened with his document after he wrote it. And we sometimes lose track of a day in September when we can pause and think, ‘There is that second document in our founding after our Declaration, the United States Constitution that remains the foundation of every law that we still continue on today, and we could not be more grateful for a stable foundation for our nation.’