Attorney General Derek Schmidt gave an example of a possible law that could effect Sunflower Elementary fourth graders.
He told them the state legislature passed a law saying the students could not talk to each other while passing in the hallways at school. He said if they did, they could be arrested. In unison, the students answered “No” when asked if they liked the law.
One student said the law was unconstitutional. Another said it was against the First Amendment.
“That is right,” Schmidt answered. “That was very impressive. They are young, but they understand an awfully lot. It is always heart-warming to spend time with them.”
Schmidt and Rep. Blaine Finch talked to the fourth graders about their government positions and the Constitution Monday, which happened to be Constitution Day. Schmidt explained the U.S. Constitution was signed 231 years ago on Monday.
Finch was impressed with the knowledge of the students.
“You do see the world through fresh eyes,” Finch said. “It is a lot fun to interact with them. It was clear their teachers had done a great job of teaching them the fundamentals on how the Constitution came to and some of the important protections came in the Bill of Rights. We had one young man that knew about the First Amendment and knew exactly why the government could not restrict his speech. In fourth grade, to have that understanding, that is the foundation. There is plenty of time left for them to build their knowledge about the Constitution and our system. They are very tuned in. You could tell there was a lot of students following current events and appreciate there is a federal level and wanting to know how it impacts their lives.”
Schmidt said the students reenergize him.
“They remind you about the basics and ask questions like, why do you do what you do?, he said.
Finch introduced Schmidt to the fourth graders and asked them if they knew about his position in state government. A couple of students answered quickly, “one of the most important lawyers in the state.”
“Good answer,” Finch said. “When we talk about what I do as a Representative, there are 125 of us. We help make rules for the whole state. Things like how fast you can drive on the roads, taxes, how much moms and dads pays when they go to the grocery store, taxes are involved in that. We decide what happens if somebody breaks the law. They do they go to jail? Get probation? We as a Legislature are elected by people across the state to go make rules that we all have to live by. That is the legislative branch.”
Schmidt explained the executive branch’s role.
“Our job is to enforce the law,” Schmidt said. “These guys [pointing to Finch] have passed over 1,000 different laws that tell me to do something. That is a whole lot. The state constitution sets up the rules on how we work together.”
Schmidt and Finch, who also are lawyers in private life, explained how the judicial branch intertwines with the other two branches.
“The judicial branch is made up of all the courts in our system,” Finch said. “What do the courts do? They can interpret the law. They are able to look at it and read it through the lens of the constitution and say ‘yes that is constitutional or no that is unconstitutional.’ That is the very important function of the judicial branch. We pass things and sometimes they are not constitutional.”
Schmidt told the students that not all laws passed are constitutional.
“Maybe they want to pass a law that is right on the edge of whether the Constitution allows it or not,” Schmidt said. “Somebody goes down to a judge and says ‘we don’t think it is constitutional’ and files a lawsuit. Somebody has to defend what they have done. That is my job. We do thousands of cases every year.”
Finch said the Constitution is not a set in stone document.
“The Constitution can change,” he said. “It has been amended 27 times. When we got done writing it, they said ‘wait a minute,’ we missed some stuff and there are 10 amendments we have to put in right away. Things like freedom of speech and freedom of religion. There are a lot of important protections that were not in the original document.”
Schmidt asked “who says that’s the way government works?” A student answered “the Constitution.”
“We wrote down how we are going to decide, the process, rules we are going to follow and who gets to decide,” Schmidt said.
Finch said the students were very attentive and inquisitive about the Constitution and government.
“It is a lot of fun to see the seeds get planted,” Finch said. “For some of these kids it may not blossom for years to come. Some of them may be today may have a newfound appreciation for the Constitution, for what self-government means and we hope a few will grow up and be interested in public service and be involved in their communities.”
Finch left the students with some helpful advice: “Always work hard at what you are doing today. Work hard while you are in school. You never know what you will be doing as an adult. You never know the one thing you are learning today might help you when you become an adult. Be friendly and kind to everybody because you never know who that person you are talking to at lunch or dinner might turn out to be somebody that says ‘hey I need your help to accomplish something.’ It might be the person who helps accomplish your dream. All because you were nice, kind and friendly to them. You will be surprised how neat things can turn out for you and your lives. You all have a great opportunity here at Sunflower Elementary. Listen to your teachers.”