Taking a pause to reflect on July 4th

Robert Kesten
Robert Kesten is the executive director and CEO of the Stonewall National Museum and Archive, based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Guest essay on the U.S. Constitution

On this July 4, 2023, sitting at a desk overstuffed with books, newspapers, and other materials that have not been properly put away, I take pause and imagine July 4, 1776, and the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence and the establishment of a nation seeking its place in the world.

It would take years for the Revolutionary War to be won, and years more before the approval of our Constitution, making us a Constitutional Democratic Republic. Our system of government, unlike other modern democracies, demands more of its citizens to succeed. Ours is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. An informed electorate is vital to our success and future.

Our Constitution begins, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

These lines dictate how we interpret everything else in the document, for all power derives from the people. The three branches of government defined in the Constitution are there to carry out, protect and defend the aforementioned objectives pushing us to become a more perfect union. The Court’s decisions should always reflect those very clear and specific goals as stated in that opening paragraph. Constitutionality is based solidly on those above stated sentences, citizen-generated reasons for “ordaining and establishing this Constitution.”

If something moves us in the direction of a more perfect union, ensures domestic tranquility, promotes the general welfare, and secures the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, then it is Constitutional. The efforts made to treat every American as equal under the law and to make laws so that everyone has equal opportunity to be the best possible citizen they can be, is Constitutional as it goes directly to building a more perfect union.

A number of recent Supreme Court decisions may have paid close attention to certain laws and legal arguments but may have ignored the central reason our Constitution came into existence, and whose interests the Court represents. The Court’s responsibility is to the American people, as it is We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, …do ordain and establish this Constitution. By not using that standard as established by the Founders and agreed to by the people, there is a question of legitimacy in those decisions and a degrading of the respect needed for the Court to be above reproach and carry out its responsibilities.

Even our understanding of the Bill of Rights, those first 10 Amendments to the Constitution, must be read in the light of the Constitution’s first paragraph. That includes our understanding of the freedoms and rights the Amendments bestow. Do they move us towards “the blessings of Liberty,” how do they grow “domestic Tranquility,” in what way do they manifest “the general Welfare,” and again, do they push us towards a more perfect Union? When these benchmarks are in place and fully considered, when we measure laws and judgements against them, it gives us pause as choices are made based on our understanding of this document.

It makes sense that the Court question decisions it has made, but it remains obligated to fulfill its Constitutional mandate. In fulfilling that mandate it might require that no action be taken. When the court indicates action is required of another branch of government, but that branch is dysfunctional and unable to act, and if a previous court has filled the breach, and a past decision, has taken the opening paragraph of the Constitution into account, it is not always in the People’s best interest to revisit that ruling at that time, as it can move us away from establishing a more perfect union.

History has illustrated the Court’s great miscalculations in judgement, Dred Scott in the time of the Taney Court is but one example. Separate but Equal was another such decision.  We the People must learn from those mistakes, as should those sitting on the court, and our politically elected representatives.

A woman’s right to her body, recognizing the limits of free speech and religious freedoms, understanding the intentions of the right to bear arms, maintaining trust in our elections, are important in furthering the intentions of the first paragraph, the very cornerstone of the US Constitution.

On this 247th July 4th holiday, every American should read the first paragraph of the Constitution and remind themselves of what our Founders intended to create for themselves and their posterity. Then consider reading the Declaration of Independence and celebrate.


Robert Kesten
Robert Kesten has worked globally promoting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and furthering democracy. He is responsible for an award winning documentary on learning about the Holocaust at the Concentration Camps in Poland, Working on the Ghanaian Constitution, coordinating and producing events leading to Ukrainian independence, producing events for the first AIDS day treatment center in the nation, pushing for the decriminalization of homosexuality in Ukraine. Now at the Stonewall National Museum and Archives he is taking ideas and bringing them to life.