Constitution Day: A Byrd Legacy (Video)

In an undated photo, Byrd holds up a copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution during a MoveOn rally against the 'nuclear option.' (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A decade ago, during an earlier debate about military intervention in the Middle East, Sen. Robert C. Byrd led the establishment of Constitution Day, celebrated annually on Sept. 17.  

There's never a shortage of complaints about including policy provisions and funding limitations in spending bills, but back in 2004, one such provision was cause for celebration. Actually, it mandated celebration — about the Constitution.  

A fiscal 2005 omnibus spending package included language, crafted at the behest of the West Virginia Democrat, directing leadership of federal departments and agencies to "provide educational and training materials concerning the United States Constitution to each employee of the agency or department on September 17 of each year."  

"Each educational institution that receives Federal funds for a fiscal year shall hold an educational program on the United States Constitution on September 17 of such year for the students served by the educational institution," it read.  

The date coincides with the signing of the foundational document on Sept. 17, 1787.  

When Byrd, at the time the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, introduced Constitution Day legislation in September 2004, the stalwart defender of the legislative branch's prerogatives spoke to the relationship between the president and Congress with respect to war powers. And of course, that remains a relevant debate today.  

"So Congress is the paymaster, the armorer, and the rulemaking body for the military — not the president, not the commander-in-chief, nor his generals. The president commands the militia only when the militia is called into action by Congress or when necessary to repel an invasion," Byrd said at the time. "The framers ensured that the people — the first three words in the preamble of this Constitution, which I hold in my hand, are: 'We The People.' That is you; that is you; that is you; that is you; that is you, that is you. 'We The People.'"  


"That is you, the people out there over the broad hills and valleys and mountains of this great nation who are watching through these electronic eyes and hearing the words that are being spoken on the floor of the Senate — the people," said Byrd. "The framers ensured that the people, through their elected representatives in Congress would control the military so that it could not become a tool of Government repression against their own people or a way for presidents to lead the nation into foreign misadventures."  



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