A Message from Chief Judge Robert M. Bell of the Maryland Court of Appeals
Constitution Day is observed on September 17 each year to celebrate the date of the signing, in 1787, of the United States Constitution. By law, all educational institutions receiving federal funding must observe Constitution Day. It is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate and discuss our Constitution and system of government, but I invite you to learn more about our government and our Constitution throughout the year, not just on September 17. We hope that you will explore the Maryland Judiciary's website, as well as the links listed here.
In the United States, we have a federal government and constitution. In addition, each state has a separate state constitution and state government. The Constitution of the United States and each state constitution outline the framework of the government, including the executive branch, legislative branch, and judicial branch. Each branch plays an important role: The legislative branch enacts the laws; the executive branch enforces the laws; the judicial branch interprets the laws. These branches are interrelated, yet independent. Together, they make up the system of "checks and balances."
Of the three branches, the role of the judiciary is perhaps the least understood. Its constitutionally mandated role is as neutral arbiter and it provides, in accordance with the rule of law, rational adjudication. Because it is independent, its decisions need not, and in fact, do not, reflect the most popular opinion or the politically expedient course of action. An independent judiciary — free of, and unfettered by, politics and political constraints, politicizing rhetoric, or the popular opinion of the moment — is essential not simply to our system of government, but also gives meaning to, and in reality defines, the rule of law.
We have a legal system that is based not on power or purse, but on the people's respect for the law and the judiciary that administers it. It is the people's good opinion alone that preserves the rule of law, and what sets our society apart from those where freedom does not exist. This rule of law is the most fragile aspect of our system. It must be preserved at all cost, encouraged and welcomed even by those who do not agree with the outcome of one decision or another. Such a judiciary more likely will be effective for it more likely will enjoy, and inspire, the public's trust and confidence.
We are fortunate in this nation and in this state to live under the rule of law and within a legal system that runs smoothly, that dispenses justice routinely, and where the people's rights routinely are protected.
Here are some interesting links to visit. We hope they’ll help you explore and discover more about our Constitution and system of government:
• See an image of the Constitution of the United States.
• Go up close and in depth: Explore this interactive Constitution through the National Constitution Center’s website.
• Learn more about Constitution Day through the National Archives.
• Peruse Maryland's Constitution.
• Did you know that Maryland was the seventh state to ratify the Constitution? Discover more facts about the Constitution in a Q&A format.
• Learn about Maryland's court system online, including a video that gives you an overview of the state’s courts in less than 10 minutes.
• Discover the courts from a younger point of view and help children learn with these guides and coloring books.
• Watch Maryland's highest court in action – archived webcasts of Maryland Court of Appeals arguments.
• The National Constitution Center is a museum devoted entirely to the Constitution, in Philadelphia – admission is free on Constitution Day, Sept. 17 – but you can also learn a lot by visiting online. And from Sept 10-21, the Center will host its annual Constitution Hall Pass, a free webcast and live chat for students and teachers nationwide. This year’s program, just in time for the 2012 election, traces the history of the American presidency.
• Which Founding Father are you? The U.S. Constitution was written in 1787 by 55 men who shared one purpose, but who had very different personalities. Take this interactive quiz from the National Constitution Center to learn more and figure out which Founder’s personality best fits your own.
• From the National Constitution Center: Try your hand at rebuilding the Constitution’s Bill of Rights in this interactive game.
• Teachers: The Center for Civic Education offers lesson plans for K-12 about the Constitution and American citizenship.
• Printable version of these links