On Saturday, many people will glance at their calendars and remark that it is Constitution Day — a celebration of the day that the Founding Fathers signed our Constitution in 1787. But will it resonate just how much significance that document has — even more than 200 years after it was signed?
Though old, the Constitution has renewed significance to hundreds of Americans each and every day. Take Raleigh Bruner, the owner of a small moving company in Kentucky. After helping his sister move, he thought that it might be a good way to make a living. He started a moving company, Wildcat Moving, and named it after his alma mater — the University of Kentucky. But Raleigh soon learned that Kentucky law made it illegal to run a moving business if the existing moving companies object.
That law is called a “Certificate of Necessity” law, but some call it the “Competitor’s Veto.” The way the law works is that when an entrepreneur applies for a license to run a moving business, he must notify all existing businesses of the application. The existing businesses can then protest the application for any reason — including the simple reason that they don’t want to compete. A protest subjects the applicant to a government hearing akin to full-blown litigation, where the applicant must prove to a bureaucrat that his business is “necessary.” Of course, proving that your business is necessary in advance is a nearly impossible feat. The only way to prove that your services are needed is to open your doors and let consumers decide.
Mr. Bruner filed a civil rights lawsuit arguing that the law violated his constitutional right to earn a living. A federal judge agreed, and struck down the law. Now that Mr. Bruner can operate free of the Competitor’s Veto, he’s turned Wildcat Moving into a thriving business. For Mr. Bruner, the Constitution signifies his right to earn a living for himself and his family.
The Constitution is also significant to La’sheika White, an African-American mother whose son is prevented from attending the school of his choice in St. Louis next year — simply because he is black.
The White family formerly lived in St. Louis, where her 9-year-old son, Edmund, attended a charter school. The family recently moved to Maryland Heights, Mo., and they would like to continue enrolling Edmund in the same school that he has been attending since kindergarten. But Edmund is prohibited from transferring by a policy that allows only non-black students living in the county to transfer to public schools in St. Louis.
The original purpose of the discriminatory policy was to assist desegregation, but the Whites have filed a constitutional lawsuit arguing that prohibiting students from attending the school of their choice — solely because of their race — is unconstitutional. To La’sheika, the Constitution represents her right to be free of irrational discrimination.
The Constitution is also significant to the Murrs, who own two adjacent properties in St. Croix, Wis. The Murrs purchased a waterfront lot in 1960 and built a family cabin on it. They enjoyed their cabin on the river so much that, three years later, they bought a second lot as an investment property. Local law now prevents the Murrs from using or selling their investment lot.
The Murrs filed a constitutional lawsuit seeking compensation for the government’s taking of their investment parcel, arguing that they had been denied all economic use of their property. But a Wisconsin court ruled that because the Murrs own the adjacent cabin lot, and they can still use that cabin, they have not been denied all economic use of their property “as a whole,” and are not entitled to compensation.
In other words, by treating the two, separate parcels as one, the court allowed the state to avoid compensating the Murrs when it took their property. The Supreme Court of the United States will hear the Murrs’ appeal next term. To the Murrs, the Constitution represents their right to compensation when the government deprives them of use of their property.
All three of these families are represented free of charge by Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit legal organization dedicated to protecting constitutional rights. To these people, and to their attorneys, the Constitution isn’t just an old document — it’s a bulwark against infringements on their rights.
Although it’s especially important to think about the Constitution today, for many across America, every day the Constitution promises them important individual liberties. Americans would be wise to bear that in mind even after the clock strikes midnight, and it’s no longer September 17.
• Anastasia Boden is an attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation.