During the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020, the U.S. Constitution has been invoked in various ways: privacy issues surrounding contact tracing, democracy issues about election rules (including 24th and 26th Amendment litigation), equity issues arising from the disproportionate impact of the virus and of the enforcement of health measures like social distancing and mask requirements, reproductive freedom, and so on. And of course Americans have been arguing bitterly about what rights the Constitution gives us – as distinguished from residents of China or Korea – to refuse to obey government regulation.

Some contend that the Constitution prevents our government from mandating health measures like wearing masks, ordering non-essential businesses to close, limiting religious assembly, or requiring vaccinations. Polling suggests that a majority of Americans disagree, believing that our highest goal should be protection of the people in our community – as opposed to a more libertarian view of individual freedom; almost all courts have agreed. But, interestingly, community – or what the French constitution calls fraternité – is not one of the values embodied in our Constitution. In that light, Susan Herman of the ACLU argues, now is an ideal time to consider adding a 28th Amendment to the Constitution, borrowing from Article I of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to declare commitment to one another as one of our fundamental values. And within this broader frame, Herman, as the 2020 Kahn Humanities lecturer, at Brooklyn Public Library, will also engage questions about particular constitutional issues like those mentioned above. Following her talk, Herman will be interviewed by the ACLU’s Emerson Sykes.

Susan N. Herman is President of the American Civil Liberties Union and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School, specializing in constitutional and national security law. She writes extensively on constitutional and criminal procedure topics for scholarly and other publications. Oxford University Press reissued her book, Taking Liberties: The War on Terror and the Erosion of American Democracy, in paperback in 2014. In 2019, Crain’s New York Business placed her on its list of “50 Most Powerful Women in New York” and the Dublin University Law Society of Trinity College, Dublin, honored her with the Praeses Elit Award 2019, in recognition of her leadership of the ACLU.

Emerson Sykes is a staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, where he focuses on First Amendment free speech protections.

Please register here for this free program. Registered audience members will receive a Zoom link for the Tue, Oct 13 7-9pm event.

Photo by Kathryn Gamble

The 2020 Kahn Humanities Lecture with ACLU President Susan Herman is made possible by the Kahn Endowment for the Humanities.

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