Nadine Strossen
Former President, ACLU; Professor of Law; New York Law School
02:26

Nadine Strossen: What is the best way to interpret the Constitution?

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We don't need the government to give us rights we inherently have.

Nadine Strossen

Nadine Strossen has written, lectured, and practiced extensively in the areas of constitutional law, civil liberties, and international human rights. From 1991 through 2008 she served as president of the American Civil Liberties Union, the first woman to head the nation’s largest and oldest civil liberties organization. Professor Strossen retains leadership positions with the ACLU as a member of its National Advisory Council and Co-Chair of its Campaign for the Future.

The National Law Journal has twice named Professor Strossen one of “The 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America.” In 1996, Working Woman Magazine listed her among the “350 Women Who Changed the World 1976–1996.” In 1997, Upside Magazine included her in the “Elite 100: 100 Executives Leading The Digital Revolution.” In 1998, Vanity Fair Magazine included Professor Strossen in “America’s 200 Most Influential Women.” In 1999, Ladies’ Home Journal included her in “America’s 100 Most Important Women.” In 2005, Professor Strossen was honored by the University of Tulsa College of Law and the Tulsa Law Review, which made her scholarly work the subject of their Fifth Annual Legal Scholarship Symposium titled “Nadine Strossen: Scholar as Activist.”

Professor Strossen’s writings have been published in many scholarly and general interest publications (more than 250 published works). Her book, Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women’s Rights (Scribner, 1995), was named by The New York Times as a “Notable Book” of 1995 and was republished in 2000 by NYU Press, with a new introduction by the author. Her coauthored book, Speaking of Race, Speaking of Sex: Hate Speech, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties (NYU Press, 1995), was named an “outstanding book” by the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights in North America.

Professor Strossen graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard College (1972) and magna cum laude from Harvard Law School (1975), where she was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. Before becoming a law professor, she practiced law for nine years in Minneapolis (her hometown) and New York City.

Transcript

Question: What is the best way to interpret the Constitution? 

Nadine Strossen: It doesn’t have an official name, but this is part of why I say it is who is looking at it rather than what it says and I think of those Escher drawings where the fish kind of shade into birds and somebody said this very well, Richard Macedo who was at that time a professor at Harvard political scientist, said some people look at the Constitution and see islands of individual liberty in a sea of government power, other people look at it and see islands of government power in a sea of individual liberty and I personally don’t understand one of those perspectives, but the other one is very clearly there that we…and I alluded to it earlier. We do not need the Constitution to give us rights. We are a government that is founded on the precept that all people have inherent human rights and that governments responsibility is to protect those rights. The purpose of the Constitution with respect to individual liberty was not to dole out a few liberties that happened to be named in the text of the Constitution, but rather as the Preamble says to secure the blessings of liberty that we already had. The Constitution rather created a government of strictly limited powers. Congress has only those powers that are here and granted, and the reason why there was no Bill of Rights in the original Constitution was not because the framers opposed human rights, but because they had created a government whose powers did not include the power to infringe our rights in the first place. So, why did they need to give a catalogue of some of the rights that the government had no power to infringe. In fact, there was a potential downside to doing that of creating a negative implication that if the right were not articulated that somehow the government had the power to infringe on it which is why the Bill of Rights included the 9th Amendment to make it even clearer than it had already been, that the fact that some rights are resided doesn’t mean that the government has the power to invade any other preexisting, inherent, natural human rights.

 

Recorded On: 2/14/08


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