New State­house dis­play of Ohio Con­sti­tu­tion is timely, needed

The Columbus Dispatch - - Front Page -

As much talk as there has been in re­cent weeks and months about amend­ing the Ohio Con­sti­tu­tion, it is more than ap­pro­pri­ate that cit­i­zens can now see orig­i­nal doc­u­ments with their own eyes at the Ohio State­house Mu­seum.

Ohioans ac­tu­ally can see two state con­sti­tu­tions. The first was writ­ten in 1802 and ef­fec­tive with state­hood in 1803. The sec­ond was adopted in 1851 and re­mains the frame­work for state gov­ern­ment.

Thanks to the lead­er­ship of the Capi­tol Square Foun­da­tion and its chair­man, Charles R. Moses, our state Capi­tol is the first in the na­tion to be­come home to its found­ing doc­u­ments.

En route to last week’s un­veil­ing cer­e­mony, the foun­da­tion worked for years to raise aware­ness and fund­ing and to se­cure a work­ing re­la­tion­ship with the Ohio His­tory Con­nec­tion (for­merly the Ohio His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety), which had the doc­u­ments in stor­age.

To pro­tect and pre­serve them, the pa­per-and-ink doc­u­ments are housed in spe­cial cases in a dimly lit room within the mu­seum’s ed­u­ca­tion cen­ter. Thou­sands of vis­i­tors, es­pe­cially school­child­ren, visit the cen­ter an­nu­ally.

“This is a work­ing, liv­ing mu­seum,” said Moses, foun­da­tion chair­man for the past 15 years and pres­i­dent of the Ohio Tele­com As­so­ci­a­tion. He has worked tire­lessly on be­half of civics ed­u­ca­tion, in­clud­ing the 2009 open­ing of the State­house Mu­seum and its con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ment.

Sadly, na­tional polls show only one-fourth of Amer­i­can adults can name all three branches of gov­ern­ment. About half do not know their state has a con­sti­tu­tion (all 50 do).

And 11 of the orig­i­nal 13 states had con­sti­tu­tions that pre­ceded the 1787 adop­tion of the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion. “Vir­tu­ally all of the foun­da­tional lib­er­ties that pro­tect Amer­i­cans orig­i­nated in the state con­sti­tu­tions and to this day re­main in­de­pen­dently pro­tected by them,” wrote Jef­frey S. Sut­ton of Bex­ley, a judge on the U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the 6th Cir­cuit.

Sut­ton has lec­tured and writ­ten ex­ten­sively on the im­por­tance of state con­sti­tu­tions and the need for law schools to do a bet­ter job teach­ing them.

Af­ter all, the 10th Amend­ment to the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion del­e­gates wide­spread pow­ers to the states. State con­sti­tu­tions — not the fed­eral one — control ed­u­ca­tion; state ex­ec­u­tive power; ju­di­cial se­lec­tion; state debt, fi­nance and tax­a­tion lim­its; pow­ers of lo­cal gov­ern­ments; term lim­its, and more.

The Ohio Con­sti­tu­tion grants more power than most as one of only 14 states that em­power cit­i­zens to change laws and amend the con­sti­tu­tion with both a statu­tory ini­tia­tive and a di­rect con­sti­tu­tional ini­tia­tive. Ohioans also en­joy the power of the ref­er­en­dum to re­peal laws.

These tools of di­rect democ­racy were adopted by Ohio vot­ers in 1912. They were among 34 amend­ments ap­proved of 42 pro­posed by a state con­sti­tu­tional con­ven­tion. This was at the height of the Pro­gres­sive Era, when re­form­ers in both ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties re­belled against boss rule, ma­chine pol­i­tics and cor­po­rate control of elected of­fi­cials.

Now to make it more dif­fi­cult for cit­i­zens to ini­ti­ate con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments, House Speaker Ryan Smith, R-Bid­well, and Se­nate Pres­i­dent Larry Ob­hof, R-Me­d­ina, pro­pose in­creas­ing the per­cent­age of the vote re­quired for adopt­ing ini­ti­ated amend­ments from the his­tor­i­cal sim­ple ma­jor­ity to 60 per­cent. For amend­ments pro­posed by the Gen­eral Assem­bly, they would keep the pas­sage thresh­old at a sim­ple ma­jor­ity.

It’s al­ways a good time for cit­i­zens to learn more about their state con­sti­tu­tion. To­day it’s es­pe­cially im­por­tant.

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