In the wake of a highly contested 2016 presidential election, political engagement in the United States is soaring. Newspaper opinion pages, online forums, even the occasional grocery store are battlegrounds where fierce debates are waged over public policy and issues of law.
The bedrock of our democracy, the Constitution, is often a focus of discussion.
Enter Andrew Siegel, Seattle University Associate Professor of Law. The prominent public speaker who’s a frequent commentator on the Supreme Court for national and local media, was recently invited to speak in Langley by city resident Janice O’Mahony. She said it just seemed like the perfect time for such a speaker, as it may help people on both sides of the political isle.
“Janice was hearing rumblings from people saying they would like to discuss what’s going on in the world with a greater basis of knowledge, with a reminder of the things they once knew but might have forgotten,” said Siegel, in a Monday interview with The Record. “We agreed putting together a lecture series on the history, the structure of and the theory behind the Constitution would be good for that discussion.”
Siegel, whose scholarly work covers constitutional law, theory and the Supreme Court, will host three separate lectures on his areas of expertise at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts. The series runs through June, with the presentations slated for 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. on June 5, June 12 and June 25. The lectures are cosponsored by League of Women Voters of Whidbey Island, Island County Bar Association and Skagit Valley College.
Tickets are $20 per lecture.
The first lecture covers the history and content of the Constitution to give visitors an idea of what led to its drafting and amendment, before Siegel dives head first into the ideas, events and personalities that shaped the Supreme Court in the second lecture. The last presentation covers constitutional questions and challenges, and ponders the question of how the country moves forward.
Siegel will leave a portion of the lecture open to dialogue, as he wants the events to have a “conversational” tone.
“At this point in my career, I think I have an obligation to share my studies with people at events and through media,” Siegel said. “I’m hoping to spur the community to open a dialogue.”
O’Mahony reached out to Siegel after months of overhearing debates and open discussions regarding current events , as well as conversations on the legalities of lawmakers’ proposals. She and Siegel agreed that providing some constitutional background can make it easier for people to digest the news.
O’Mahony realized the Constitution is regularly mentioned in debates by both sides, despite many having not reviewed the contents of the document since their school years. These presentations will serve as a refresher.
“The Constitution is a much-discussed and often not well understood major document,” O’Mahony said. “We’re not a community that has a lot of lectures on this sort of material. I wanted to do this because it’s a serious topic that needs a serious approach with depth and details in order to properly educate.”
Siegel and O’Mahony emphasized the bipartisan nature of the lectures, saying the series is “all about citizenry” rather than catering to a specific agenda. No particular incident in the news spurred the series, rather the general adversarial mood in the United States.
O’Mahony is hopeful the lecture series and the ensuing conversation will encourage those in attendance to engage in political discussion in a civilized way backed up by facts. For her, it’s all about educating the community and encouraging those conversations to take place.
“My hope is that people will have more language available to them to have serious conversations among each other and with their elected officials,” O’Mahony said. “I hope that a lecture like this can give people the confidence of increased understanding of our Constitution.”