Published On: Fri, Aug 15th, 2014

WCU to host Constitution Day panel discussion Sept. 17

CULLOWHEE – The Western Carolina University Public Policy Institute will host a panel discussion titled “Are Two Better than One? Comparing our Rights (and Responsibilities) under the North Carolina and United States Constitutions” on Wednesday, Sept. 17.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in Room 130 of the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center. The room is next to the lobby of the Fine Art Museum.

Panelists will include Chris Brook, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina; Robert Orr, former North Carolina Supreme Court Justice and former executive director of the North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law; and Robert Ferguson, WCU visiting assistant professor of history. Todd Collins, director of the PPI, will serve as the moderator.

“This panel discussion will explore how the constitutions are similar and different, the rights under each, and the relevance of each in today’s society,” said Collins. “Our panelists have a wealth of experiences in trying cases dealing with constitutional issues, and with former Justice Orr, nearly two decades of experience in interpreting the North Carolina Constitution – essential deciding what the words in the document really mean.

“Having two constitutions can possibly expand our rights at times, but it may also put more limitations on residents in our state,” he said. “For example, can the federal government ban same-sex marriages? No, under the U.S. Constitution, according to the U.S. Supreme Court. Yet, the N.C. Constitution does ban such marriages under the controversial ‘Amendment One’ passed a couple of years ago. These conflicts often must be settled through the courts.  Our discussion will talk about these conflicts, but also times when you may actually have more rights under the state constitution than the national constitution.”

Ferguson teaches WCU’s North Carolina history class and will give an overview of the historical development of the N.C. Constitution and provide some context as to why there are two constitutions.

Brook will share from his experience as ACLU-NC legal director. He oversees the organization’s legal program and work on constitutional law issues. He has worked to safeguard religious liberty in public schools, fought against Amendment One and worked to protect free assembly rights in Charlotte during the Democratic National Convention. He also is a member of the North Carolina Advocates for Racial Justice Task Force.

Orr, who is serving as interim district attorney in a district that serves Avery, Madison, Mitchell, Watauga and Yancey counties, has litigated cases in areas ranging from personal injury to state constitutional issues. He is known for his expertise concerning the N.C. Constitution and his final opinion authored as a N.C. Supreme Court justice relating to the Leandro public education case in which school systems from poorer counties filed a lawsuit against the state claiming their students were not receiving adequate and equal educational opportunities.

The event is part of Constitution Day, the commemoration of the formation and signing of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787. The panel discussion also will build on WCU’s 2014-15 campuswide learning theme, “North Carolina – Our State, Our Time.”

Event sponsors include the PPI, Pre-Law Club and the Department of Political Science and Public Affairs. Seats at the event will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis.

Info: Collins (828) 227-3989, tcollins@wcu.edu

– WCU

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