If you don't know anything about our Constitution, you may not get excited about celebrating Constitution Day. But this guest speaker didn't have to talk long before it was evident , this 4-page document we hear so much about has a lot to do with our daily lives and quite frankly, the future of our country.
Correction: In the Thursday, September 21, 2017 edition, in the article “Constitution Day celebrated by real world application of Rolla attorney,” RDN incorrectly spelled the name of Missouri S&T Associate Professor Michael E. Meagher (originally spelled Meager in the article). He is a member of the Department of History and Political Science, the academic unit that sponsored the event. It was incorrectly stated as the Humanities-Social Science Department.
In addition, it was stated that “an unwed father has no rights towards initiating or contesting an adoption plan.” The speaker, attorney Rachel White says, “Biological fathers do have rights, they just need to protect them by any of the mechanisms that I listed: sign the birth certificate, register with the Putative Father Registry, file a paternity action, or support the child and have a parent/child relationship.”
The Rolla Daily News regrets the errors
The Havener Center on the Missouri S&T campus was the site of a small, scholastic gathering celebrating Constitution Day on Monday. Associate Professor Dr. Michael Meagher of the Department of History and Political Science at Missouri S&T, hosted the event. The guest speaker, attorney Rachel White, was there to tell the student audience how the Constitution plays a part in her legal activities.
Her practice is dedicated to adoption law in Rolla. She represents adoptive parents, biological parents or children involved in the adoption process. She mentioned that Constitutional law is involved in every case she handles.
White asked the crowd, “Which Constitution Amendment might apply to adoption law?” No one in the audience was sure, so she added, “Just so you know this is not a trick question, there is no Constitutional right to adopt that is regarding the biological parents or the child.”
The room was silent, so she shared “the 14th Amendment.”
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” (Editor’s note: there are five sections to this Amendment that have to do with public debt, the Confederacy of the Southern states, among other things.)
Summing up the Amendment as it pertains to her work, she said this is a liberty Amendment—it has to do with right to privacy and the role of due process, the fair treatment through the judicial system as a citizen’s entitlement.
“I literally deal with this every single day for adoptions,” she said. “It’s tied to the right to parent, the right to make decisions for your child, to the right to make an adoption plan.”
White said that if a mother wants to put a child up for adoption, she does not have to name the biological father. She also added that an unwed father has no rights towards initiating or contesting an adoption plan, unless they do one or more of these things: sign the birth certificate; register with the Putative Father Registry; file a paternity action; or support the child and have a parent/child relationship.
“The right to privacy falls under what the court has held to be ‘substantive due process,’” she said. She explained this is a principle that allows courts to protect fundamental rights from government interference, even if procedural protections are present or the rights are not specifically mentioned elsewhere in the U.S. Constitution.
She said the courts refer to this as “opportunity protection”—someone has the right to grasp the opportunity for protection. In the realm of the right to raise and educate children in the way parents want, the courts have backed parental rights since the start of the last century.
White pointed out Meyer vs Nebraska (1923) that held that a 1919 law restricting foreign-language education violated the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.
“That was the earliest recognition that due process addresses human rights as well as economic rights, in this 1923 case,” she said.
“The [Supreme] Court observed that the individual has certain fundamental rights that must be respected. The Court further explained that the meaning of liberty in the 14th Amendment cannot be defined on exactness, which of course opens [the Court] up for all kinds of definitions. The Court declared these liberties include, but not necessarily limited to, the right to marry, establish a home and bring up children.”
White continued to give historical court references that have emboldened the right to privacy and individual liberties.
In an adoption—what the courts have upheld continuously—is of the needed balance between the parents constitutional right and the best interest of the child.
“When you’re looking at an adoption or a termination of parental rights through the state, they’re going to be much more focused on the rule of law and constitutional rights,” the attorney said. When you look at a private adoption, the focus is almost always focused on the best interest of the child. So the state has an interest and the court has an interest that the child be in a home with a stable environment—so they aren’t in limbo, to where someone steps in years later to say ‘I’ll parent now.’”
Roe vs. Wade came up in the discussion from an audience question—“Are the rights of a child different if it is inside the womb or outside the womb?”
White answered the law only addresses ‘rights’ upon birth. Without getting into detail, she said, “In Roe vs. Wade, there is an actual tier system—first trimester, second trimester, third trimester—and that [legislation]refers to the balancing act of the state’s interests (rule by state statute/constitutional law) and the health of the mother and the child (best interests).
With the Constitution, you always have the challenges and the differences between the Supreme Court judges,” she noted. “[Judge] Scalia was a Constitutionalist—it is what it is, and there is no room for interpretation. Others look at it as a living document. That’s how I look at it, because there have been great changes to it since the time it was written.”
She said the framers of the Constitution were really interested in property interests.
“Look at the 14th Amendment—it was about property. Human rights were finally given as much right as economic rights, as in that [Meyer vs. Nebraska] 1923 case. So, I think it needs to be interpreted and considered according to the world we live in now.”
Attorney White concluded by saying the structure of the Constitution is still sound. While acknowledging judge bias and human error, she said, “There hasn’t been a better system.” she said. “As a whole—yay Constitution!”