In celebrating the “miracle” that is the U.S. Constitution, Judge Ken Starr urged an audience of primarily high school and college students to emulate the mindset of the founding fathers.
“We have different perspectives, different views, but we need to come together in the spirit of friendship and find common ground,” Starr said of the founders’ attitude at that time. “Compromise is in fact a very important word in getting along in human affairs.”
Starr spoke to more 300 people Tuesday on the Tyler Junior College campus as part of a Constitution Day event. He also was scheduled to speak to the Smith County Bar Foundation Tuesday evening. The day marked the 226th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution.
Starr is Baylor University’s president and a former solicitor general of the United States. He has argued 36 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court during his career. He also was appointed to serve as Independent Counsel for five investigations, including Whitewater, according to a Baylor University webpage.
From the moment Starr began his message Tuesday, he put his audience in a position to imagine what it was like to be a part of the Constitutional Convention of 1787.
“Have you ever known anyone who was just negative?” he said.
At the time of the founding of this country, there were a lot of people with negative attitudes, he said.
If the negative attitudes had won, there would have been no convention that summer, he said.
There would have been no 13th Amendment to eradicate slavery.
There would have been no 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote.
And there would have been no 26th Amendment prohibiting the states or federal government from establishing a voting age above 18.
Starr showed how the same spirit that formed the Constitution persisted through the generations to amend it.
Had polls existed in the aftermath of the American Revolution, they would have shown a nation divided, he said. Some wanted change. Others wanted the status quo. And still others were uncertain of what course to take.
Men such as George Washington and Alexander Hamilton believed that reform was possible, that the present situation in the nation could and needed to be improved upon. But there were a variety of views and ideas among the men at the convention, Starr said. And they all couldn’t be implemented.
“Not everyone agreed, but the point is enough people were willing to listen to different views and to hammer out something that was a miracle … ,” he said.
“Isn’t that a spirit that you would like to see recaptured in America?”
Starr asked the students to consider the changes that could be made to the Constitution during their lifetime. What did they think would be amended?
People suggested changes related to marriage, the right to bear arms, term limits to Congress and voting rights.
But it was a suggestion about citizenship that Starr said was close to his guess. He surmised that the students’ generation would amend the Constitution to allow a foreign-born American citizen to serve as president of the United States.
Student response to that suggestion was mixed — Starr said that would launch a great debate, which is exactly what went on at the Constitutional Convention.
He encouraged the students to follow the example set by the founding fathers.
“Always be open to listening, and then the idea of reform, because that is the spirit that lead us to the Bill of Rights,” he said.
And that addition was necessary to gain the support of the colonies that were holding out. Because of willingness to compromise and work together, this nation has the oldest written constitution in the history of the human race, Starr said.
“May we continue to honor the Constitution and that spirit of amity and moderation,” he said.
After his message, Starr opened the floor to questions from the audience. Questions addressed the right to bear arms, states’ rights, Congressional overreach, separation of church and state, National Security Agency surveillance and the right of a president to wage war without Congressional consent.
Students said they found Starr’s presentation engaging and informative.
“It’s so important for us to hear from wise men and women that we can make a difference and we can change our nation,” said Maggie Mahfood, 18, a TJC freshman political science major from Tyler.
Bishop T.K. Gorman Regional Catholic School senior Dominic Jasso, 17, said he thought all of Starr’s opinions and everything he had to say was great.
Fellow Bishop Gorman senior Cecilia Guzman, 17, agreed.
“I love his enthusiasm,” she said. “He was just so passionate about what he was talking about. He didn’t bore me.”