Colorado Rights Blog

Nathan Woodliff-Stanley By: Nathan Woodliff-Stanley 9.17.2019

On Constitution Day, A Vision for Inclusion

At the American Civil Liberties Union, we consider Constitution Day on September 17 to be an important occasion, remembering the signing of the U.S. Constitution on that day in 1787.  Beginning with the words, “We the people,” the Constitution is the foundation of our nation’s system of government. The Constitution establishes essential principles of checks and balances, separation of powers, peaceful transitions of power, due process, equal protection, and everything promised in the Bill of Rights, from freedom of speech and protest to freedom from cruel and unusual punishment.

Unfortunately, many of these principles and promises that are so essential to our democracy are currently under attack. In some cases, they have never been fully realized in the first place. The work of the ACLU is to protect, defend, and advance civil rights and civil liberties for everyone. This means making the promises of the Constitution not just words on a piece of paper but real for everyone, not just for some.

A big part of our challenge is rooted in the history of our nation and the Constitution itself. Despite the inclusive language in our nation’s early days of “We the people”, “created equal”, and “liberty and justice for all,” the lived reality of our founding was anything but inclusive. The Constitution itself protected and upheld slavery. Rights were not honored for the indigenous people already here, and women were disenfranchised from the start. The central story of our nation’s history is the struggle to overcome these issues and to bring our reality closer to the inclusive values we have always proclaimed. The central question is which vision for our nation will ultimately prevail.

The threats to our democracy that we face today have taken a new form, but the underlying forces of white supremacy, patriarchy, violence and inequity are not new. The Constitution gives us powerful tools to protect the rights of all people and even to reform flaws rooted in the Constitution itself. We cannot afford to allow governmental checks and balances to break down, to let the integrity of our elections be destroyed, or to treat our nation’s leaders as above the law. More than ever, we need to protect an independent press, an independent judiciary, rights of protest, rights of privacy, separation of church and state, and freedoms not limited by race, gender, or any other aspect of human identity.

Constitution Day is a reminder that we all have a role to play in protecting our democracy and making it work better. ACLU of Colorado is committed to improving education about the Constitution, led by our new Community Education Manager, Jessica Howard.  And in everything else we do, whether fighting mass incarceration, challenging the criminalization of poverty, protecting immigrant families, defending reproductive rights, seeking to end the death penalty, or resisting voter suppression, we are using the tools of the Constitution to fulfill the best of our nation’s history and overcome the worst.

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  • Anthony Martinez is 84-years-old and suffering from renal failure, as well as other serious medical conditions including dementia. He is currently incarcerated in the Sterling Correctional Facility, site of one of Colorado’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks with almost 600 active COVID-19 cases. He and his family are understandably terrified that he will catch the virus and die.

    In the midst of this public health crisis, incarcerated people as vulnerable as Anthony, could and should be immediately released to safely live out their remaining years with family.

    Read more about Anthony Martinez and other at-risk incarcerated people. 

  • Ronald Johnson is pre-diabetic, suffers from asthma and high blood pressure, and regularly uses an inhaler to breathe. His age and respiratory ailments put him at risk of serious illness and death if he contracts COVID-19. With over hundreds of active cases in Colorado’s prisons, his family fears he will not make it out alive. His daughter, Amber, says, “In prison, he can’t protect himself and he can’t social distance. My deep fear is that my dad will die in prison. That is an awful, traumatic reality to consider. My chest is tight just thinking about how quickly it spreads and how vulnerable he is.”

    Governor Hickenlooper shortened his sentence following testimony from family, friends and correctional officers advocating for his early release. Yet, he is still eight years away from parole. While he remains in prison, COVID-19 continues to spread. Ronald’s three siblings, four children and four grandchildren are desperate for his release.

    Read more about Ronald Johnson and other at-risk incarcerated people.

  • Tuesday Olson knew her pregnancy was in trouble and tried to access hospital care as soon as possible. But there was a problem: she was in jail. This is her story.
  • It’s time to end the death penalty in Colorado. Family members who lost loved ones to murder speak out against an unjust and broken system.