Professor Jody Freeman Featured on PBS show about the Constitution

Photo used with Permission of Twin Cities Public Television.

Professor Freeman rode a Harley and spoke about federalism on the first episode of Constitution USA, a program airing over four Tuesdays this month on PBS. The series is hosted by Peter Sagal, host of NPR’s Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me!, who decided to travel around the country to learn more about the Constitution. In the first episode, “A More Perfect Union,” Sagal promised to explore “how it works and how it doesn’t . . . how it unites us as a nation and how it has nearly torn us apart.”

Sagal says, “We revere the Constitution and for good reason. When it was written in 1789, it was revolutionary, an owner’s manual for a new nation, setting up an entirely new form of government.” However, he also noted that the Constitution didn’t provide all the answers. “It seems we’ve been having the same debate for 225 years, trying to figure out who should win in the tug-of-war between the states and the federal government. The issues may have changed but the struggle for power just goes on and on.”

After riding across the Golden Gate Bridge on a motorcycle with Peter Sagal, Professor Freeman talked about times when it makes sense for the federal government to act.

Photo used with Permission of Twin Cities Public Television.

“When the federal government sets efficiency standards, . . . they’re creating incredible gains for the whole society. If you can put more energy efficient lightbulbs in, then you save a huge amount of money for consumers – everybody’s electric bills go down – and we save a bunch of pollution that we create by burning the energy to create the electricity. No one person has the incentive to do that and sometimes they lack the information to do it. That’s … justification for the federal role in setting those kinds of standards.”

When Sagal asked about the competing interest of liberty – for instance, the interest that Kentucky may have in burning more coal – Professor Freeman said, “The problem is that when you burn that coal and you produce sulfur dioxide, and soot, and smog, that drifts from Kentucky or the state you imagine to other states and you create a cross-state problem. That’s a classic situation when you need the federal government to solve [a] problem.”

Photo used with Permission of Twin Cities Public Television.

Sagal then wondered if we’ll ever resolve the federal-state power struggle. Professor Freeman said, “I hope we don’t. . . . I think what’s fantastic about it is we are having this [struggle] in the context of a legal debate; that is, we’re concerned about what the law ought to be. All you have to do is look around the world to places where that debate is taking place with arms and not taking place on the terrain of law. I think we’ve got a system that works pretty well.”

The entire episode can be viewed here (Professor Freeman begins around minute 47):

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