Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Panel will take in-depth look at constitution

The 2007 University of Denver Strategic Issues Panel kicked off its study of the Colorado Constitution Sept. 5 by listening to the insights of a national expert on state constitutions. He advised them to take a “hard-nosed, in the trenches” look at how the state’s constitution impacts the everyday lives of its people before considering what changes may be needed.

“Where does the constitution touch the lives of your citizens?” asks Robert Williams, associate director of the Center for State Constitutional Studies at Rutgers University. “The nature of change that’s needed may dictate the process.” 

The DU panel is part of a Strategic Issues Program launched by the University this fall. Each year, the Chancellor will choose an issue of strategic importance to the state, and Program Director Jim Griesemer, Professor and Daniels College of Business Dean Emeritus, will assemble a non-partisan panel of Colorado citizens to study the issue. 

The panel will study the issue through the fall, bringing in experts from around the state and across the country, and issue a report to the public and the legislature in January.

“Our intention is to continue this program, examining issues of particular importance to the state,” Chancellor Robert Coombe says. “We want to raise the level of public discourse.”

This year’s panel is studying the state constitution, a document written in 1876 and amended 150 times since. Williams, who has studied constitutions for 28 years, says Colorado is one of a few states operating under its original constitution. This state’s guiding document is one of the easiest to amend and the seventh longest in the nation, he says.

A long constitution is not necessarily a bad constitution, however. Williams says it’s not the length of the constitution, but how its various provisions work together that is important. The panel, he says, needs to evaluate whether numerous amendments have made the constitution “functionally incoherent,” and, if so, whether it should best be modified through additional amendments or overhauled with a constitutional convention.

The Colorado Economic Futures Panel (CEFP), a DU panel that studied the state’s fiscal future in 2005, found that conflicting state amendments made long-term state budgeting difficult. That panel spawned the creation of the Strategic Issues Program and the newly established DU Center for Colorado’s Economic Future, which provides analysis and commentary on economic trends and proposed fiscal legislation.

“Our goal is to create informed public discourse rather than partisan sound bites,” Griesemer says. “We will work toward answers, rather than start with answers.”

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