A few days ago, I gave my AP Government students one of my favorite essay prompts:
If you had to remove one of the following protections of civil liberties from the Constitution, which would it be and why? In your response, be sure to discuss:
- The meaning and purpose of this particular civil liberty
- Your reason for selecting this particular civil liberty
- The legal/governmental consequences of removing this particular civil liberty
- The political/social/economic consequences of removing this particular civil liberty
The list includes 28 civil liberties from Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution and from 11 amendments.
The students’ typical initial reaction is that they wouldn’t get rid of any of them because they’re all so important. Of course, actually writing that instead of responding to my prompt would result in an F, if not a zero.
The trick is to think about how to minimize the harm caused by eliminating a civil liberty. That kind of thinking led to my favorite response of all time, written back in my first full year of teaching. A little freshman girl wrote that she’d get rid of the 19th Amendment, which guarantees the right to vote regardless of sex. She figured that if there’s no difference between men’s and women’s voting behavior, then denying suffrage to either group would have no real effect. I was impressed by her reasoning, but we hadn’t studied voting behavior yet, so she didn’t know that, in fact, men and women do vote differently. I’d be interested to know whether she’d make the same choice now that she can vote.
My second-most favorite response of all time was written during my internship, when an African-American girl didn’t read the 13th Amendment carefully enough and thought we should get rid of it. Once she’d realized her error, she was a wee bit embarrassed.
So, here, below, are this year’s entries* for the civil liberties that my students would remove from the Constitution if they absolutely had to. The legend begins with the top-right piece of the pie and then proceeds clockwise.
I should probably keep the essays on file in case they ever want to run for office. Fire away.
*This now reflects the choices of 37 51 students. I’ll update it as more essays get turned in.