United States Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. instructed students on the role of the Constitution in government at Tuesday's forum address in the Marriott Center.
The forum address will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Oct. 28, on KBYU at 6 a.m. and on BYU Television at 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Commenting on the devotional given by President Cecil Samuelson and his wife Sharon announcing this year the "Year of the Constitution" at BYU, Roberts challenged students to not only read about the Constitution, but also to read the Constitution itself. "The actual words of the Constitution are vitally important," he said. "It is a short and powerful document and it is the most enduring written constitution in history."
Roberts focused his remarks on the work of the framers of the Constitution. Beginning with the preamble, the framers set forth the expectations of the government they were creating. The opening phrase of the preamble, "We the people," announces to all that America's destiny is not controlled by a monarch or tyrant, but by the people themselves.
"[The preamble is] one of the most eloquent statements of determined and lofty purposes in human history," Roberts said.
In an effort to craft a constitution that was not only efficient, but also preserved the liberties of the people, the framers divided the power between federal and state governments as well as among three branches of government: the legislative, the executive, and the judicial branches. This separation of powers, Roberts said, is "the anchor of the Constitution itself; the separation of powers between branches that depend on each other if the ship of state is to sail."
The first three articles of the Constitution carefully specify the roles, as well as the checks and balances, of each branch of government.
The role of the judiciary branch is to interpret the Constitution and to enforce the Constitution against both the governed and the government.
"The judicial branch has the authority to interpret the Constitution because it is law and must be independent to do so without the fear of favor, but the judges must limit themselves to that task. They must not use their independence to write their own policies into the Constitution," Roberts said.
"The framers were cautious in empowering any part of the government to exercise government authority," he noted.
The framers, recognizing that "they were drafting a charter of government to endure into the future," allowed a way to make amendments to the Constitution.
"This does not mean the Constitution simply changes with the times," Roberts was quick to point out. "If it did so, it would not be worthy of the title of the Constitution."
As proof of this, Roberts said, of the more than 11,000 amendments that have been proposed to the Constitution, only 27 have been ratified.
Roberts once again urged those in attendance to read and study the Constitution. "In studying the history of the Constitution, I think you will come away with a profound respect for those who created our nation," he said.
The framers of the Constitution pledged their lives, fortune, and honor to the creation of this country's government. "The framers set a profound example for all of us about the importance of public service as part of our lives," Roberts said. "They came from all walks of life, but they shared a common commitment to civic virtue."
Commending former BYU president Rex E. Lee for his public service and optimism, Roberts counseled students to have that same optimism.
"It is the optimism of the framers of our Constitution . . . the optimism of Brigham Young and the Utah pioneers . . . and it is the optimism that each of you inherits in doing your part to create a more perfect union and to secure the blessings of liberty for yourselves and your posterity."
Writer: Alexis Plowman