It's a document we all know, but rarely does the Constitution come alive the way it did yesterday at the Newseum.
In an event hosted by the People for the American Way to celebrate tomorrow's inauguration, a cast of 35 that included politicians, actors, veterans, folk singers, and Obama Girl herself Leah Kauffman read the Constitution, each putting their own spin on the words of the nation's founding document.
"We wanted to make this a people's reading, not just the stars that we had but everyday citizens who have made an impact," says Katheryn Kolbert, People for the American Way president. "That's the hallmark of the Constitution -- that it's about the people."
Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.) led off via a recording of him reciting the preamble, gesturing with his personal copy of the Constitution for emphasis.
O'Melveny & Myers partner Walter Dellinger III (right) read Article III which lays out how the judiciary should operate, a fitting selection for someone with as much Supreme Court experience as Dellinger.
The event took on the feel of a poetry reading with each reader yielding the lectern to the next without introduction or pause. The audience was encouraged to "cheer for your favorite provision."
Not surprisingly, the First Amendment, as read by Newseum CEO Charles Overby, received a round of applause and whistles of approval.
Ana Marie Cox, a blogger and national correspondent for Air America, elicited hisses for her reading of the 18th Amendment, which enacted Prohibition. She returned to read the 21st Amendment which repealed Prohibition. The crowd was far more fond of the latter.
Some of the passages appeared to strike a personal note with their reader. Mary Frances Berry (below), a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and former chairwoman on the U.S. Commission on Civil RIghts, read from the 14th Amendment, which granted full citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States. The crowd was particularly fond of the 14th Amendment, openly cheering for the liberties it enshrines in the Constitution.
The reading also featured actors Michael York and John Astin, author Michael
Chabon, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), and Bingham McCutchen partner Thurgood
Perhaps the loudest cheer, however, came after the reading when Kolbert congratulated President-elect Barack Obama, not present, for his historic election.
Noting the diversity of the crowd, LeRoy Gilleaud, one of the original Tuskeegee airmen who read the 23rd Amendment, said in an interview with the BLT, "This is what the Constitution is all about. It isn't about race. It's about a common purpose.
Maybe after Tuesday we'll be able to call one another brother, and it will mean something."