Law events focus on state constitutions

Ed Swaray

A series of events will discuss the balance between state constitutions and the U.S. Constitution beginning today at the University’s Law School.

The American Constitution Society is organizing the three- day lecture series that will feature local and national speakers who will talk about gay marriage, abortion and congressional redistricting.

Although the media has discussed these issues, they have not been looked at from a legal standpoint, said Lauren Hancock, an American Constitution Society board member.

“We want to increase the awareness among law students about the power of the state constitution,” she said.

She said because most Law School classes focus on federal laws and the U.S. Constitution, it is important to discuss state laws’ expansiveness.

Catherine Berryman, the chapter’s president, said even though states’ constitutions are modeled after the U.S. Constitution, they have provisions that are absent in the federal constitution.

For example, she said although the U.S. Constitution does not recognize gay marriage, it does not prohibit states from recognizing gay marriage. Thus, she said, states can make stipulations on the issue until a federal provision passes.

But Berryman said the supremacy clause will always be invoked if there is a provision in conflict between state and U.S. constitutions.

In such a circumstance, the U.S. Constitution overrides the state’s constitution.

“But the federal Constitution sets the floor, not the ceiling,” Hancock said.

Anthony Sanders, a board member for the Law School’s Federalist Society, said his organization agrees that in many ways state constitutions protect rights the U.S. Constitution does not. But his group disagrees with the American Constitution Society on what those rights should be.

Sanders said members of his organization will attend the events and participate in the discussions.