Enjoy a Virtual Celebration of Einstein’s 2020 Constitution Day Virtual Film Festival
To mark the 233rd anniversary of our U.S. Constitution—which takes place on Thursday, September 17, 2020—Einstein’s offices of general counsel and grant support are hosting a 2020 Constitution Day Virtual Film Festival.
Below you will find references to films that will help you understand certain parts of the Constitution, with recommendations organized by constitutional provision. A list of these films and documentaries also is provided separately at the end of this story.
“As an institution that receives federal funding, we required to offer a forum for educating about the Constitution,” said Dana Lee, senior counsel in the office of general counsel. “We hope that viewing these films can lead members of the Einstein community to have lively discussions with their friends and family about what our Constitution is, what it seeks to do, and how it has been implemented or amended.”
“Each film selected offers some insight into an aspect of our Constitution,” noted Gregory Dworkowitz, associate counsel, who assembled the recommendations.
The United States Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787. This important document provides the basic framework for the operation of government in the United States. All government action—whether that action is taken by the President, the Congress, a judge, a state, a county, a city, or a town or village—must be consistent with the Constitution.
The Constitution can be changed only through the procedure for amendment that is described in Article V of the Constitution. Over its 233-year history, the Constitution has been amended just 27 times.The first 10 amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, were ratified on December 15, 1791. You can view the full text of the Constitution, with all amendments, to learn more about our nation’s rule of law.
Separation of Powers—Articles I and II
Article I describes the powers of the United States Congress to make laws. Congress can make laws based only on the limited powers given to it in the Constitution. Many of these powers are found in section 8 of Article I—for example, regulating interstate commerce, printing money, and establishing post offices.
Article II describes the power of the President. The President’s authority is described in Section 2 of Article II. The President’s power is, like Congress’ powers, limited.
The powers of the Congress and the President are sometimes in conflict. The Report, a 2019 feature film starring Adam Driver (available on Prime Video), explores some of these tensions by telling the story of a congressional committee conducting an investigation into the activities of the Central Intelligence Agency following the attacks of September 11, 2001.
The Federal Courts—Article III
Article III describes the “Judicial Power” of the United States and establishes the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is empowered to hear certain cases directly—for example, if one State sues another State. But generally the Supreme Court decides appeals arising from other courts.
Several recent films have described famous Justices of the Supreme Court. Marshall, a 2017 feature film starring the late Chadwick Boseman (Netflix), tells the story of Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Justice of the Supreme Court. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second female Justice of the Supreme Court, has been featured in two films recently, the 2018 documentary RBG (Prime Video) and the 2018 feature film On the Basis of Sex, starring Felicity Jones (Prime Video).
Criminal Procedure—Amendments IV, V, and VI
The Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments establish the foundations of criminal procedure in the United States. For example, the Fourth Amendment prohibits the government from undertaking “unreasonable searches and seizures.” The Fifth Amendment provides that no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” (To “take the Fifth” is to invoke this right against self-incrimination.) And the Sixth Amendment gives defendants the right to question the prosecution’s witnesses in court: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” These provisions, among others, are intended to ensure fairness in the way the government investigates and prosecutes crimes.
You may wonder, how well do these amendments work? The Confessions, a PBS Frontline documentary from 2010 explores what can happen when suspects are coerced into confessing to crimes they did not commit. And Just Mercy, a 2019 feature film starring Michael B. Jordan (Prime Video), tells the story of renowned litigator Bryan Stevenson, the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, who has spent his career fighting for fairness in the criminal justice system.
Civil Rights—Amendments XIII and XIV
The Thirteenth Amendment prohibits “slavery [and] involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” In 13TH, a 2016 documentary film (Netflix), director Ava DuVernay explores what has, and has not, changed since the amendment was ratified in the months following the Civil War.
The Fourteenth Amendment, likewise ratified shortly after the Civil War, famously guarantees “due process of law” and “the equal protection of the laws.” But what sorts of rights does the amendment protect, and what sorts of inequalities does the amendment prohibit? Loving, a 2016 feature film starring Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton (Prime Video), tells the story of Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter, an interracial couple whose prosecution by the State of Virginia led the Supreme Court to hold, in 1967, that laws prohibiting interracial marriage violate both the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (You can listen to this recording of the oral argument before the Supreme Court in the Loving v. Virginia case.)
View One, View Them All!
Here again are some recommended films and documentaries offering insights into our U.S. Constitution. As noted above, these films can be found on Netflix or Prime Video, or as otherwise indicated.
- The Report, 2019 feature film (Prime Video)
- Marshall, 2017 feature film (Netflix)
- RBG, 2018 documentary (Prime Video)
- On the Basis of Sex, 2018 feature (Prime Video)
- The Confessions, 2010 PBS Frontline documentary
- Just Mercy, 2019 feature film (Prime Video)
- 13TH, 2016 documentary film (Netflix)
- Loving, 2016 feature film (Prime Video)
“Whether you watch just one of these films or all of them, we hope that you come away with deeper understanding of our Constitution,” said Dr. Dhanonjoy Saha, director of grant support. “It is a precious document of our democracy and one that we should not take for granted.”
Posted on: Friday, September 11, 2020