Professors face off on Constitution Day

In the name of Constitution Day, two professors from Western sparred against each other in a debate that did not even spare the U.S. Supreme Court justices.

On Sept. 16, 2011, Dr. Kevin Gutzman, professor of History and Non-Western Cultures, and Dr. Harold Schramm, professor emeritus of Justice and Law Administration, argued Snyder v. Phelps, a case recently before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I didn’t agree with any of the justices,” Gutzman said, referring to the case of people showing up to protest at a soldier’s funeral service in Westboro, Md. The soldier’s family claimed emotional distress, among other things, against the protestors. The court ruled 8-1 in favor of the protestors upholding their First Amendment rights.

While also disagreeing with the final outcome, Schramm, however, focused on the dissenting justice’s opinion, that of Justice Samuel Alito, that the First Amendment does not necessarily “allow the brutalization of innocent victims.”

Gutzman said the issue has more, however, to with the Tenth Amendment than it does freedom of speech and the right to public assembly. He said the state, not the federal government, has the right to decide such cases.

“We basically end up with important decisions decided by federal judges instead of by having a local election,” Gutzman said. “In the end, in this case, the local statute banning behavior was disallowed. We both disagree with the outcome, but on different grounds.”

Both Schramm and Gutzman outlined their arguments in a debate-style format.

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Professor of History and Non-Western Cultures Dr. Kevin Gutzman makes a point during the Constitution Day debate.