Constitutional Places in Austin, TX: Van Orden v. Perry & Fisher v. Texas

October 3rd, 2012

This weekend I took a trip to Austin, TX (almost immediately after I got home from my trip to Kalamazoo, MI). Ben Ewald, a teacher in Texas who sits on the Harlan Institute’s Teacher Advisory Network was awarded Teacher of the Year by the Texas Lawyers Auxiliary (I provided a reference for him).

While in town, I set out to find some constitutional places. First up, the 10 Commandments Monument in Van Orden v. Perry.

Here is how the Chief Justice Rehnquist describes the monument for the majority:

    The 22 acres surrounding the Texas State Capitol contain 17 monuments and 21 historical markers commemorating the “people, ideals, and events that compose Texan identity.” Tex. H. Con. Res. 38, 77th Leg. (2001).1 The monolith challenged here stands 6-feet high and 3-feet wide. It is located to the north of the Capitol building, between the Capitol and the Supreme Court building. Its primary content is the text of the Ten Commandments. An eagle grasping the American flag, an eye inside of a pyramid, and two small tablets with what appears to be an ancient script are carved above the text of the Ten Commandments. Below the text are two Stars of David and the superimposed Greek letters Chi and Rho, which represent Christ. The bottom of the monument bears the inscription “PRESENTED TO THE PEOPLE AND YOUTH OF TEXAS BY THE FRATERNAL ORDER OF EAGLES OF TEXAS 1961.” App. to Pet. for Cert. 21.

Here it is:

I did not realize how big it was. Here I am standing next to it, to provide a sense of scale–I am about 6’2″.

Also, I did not realize how close it was to the Capitol. It was also directly across from the Texas Supreme Court building.

Also inside the Capitol was a restoration of the Texas Supreme Court as it existed in 1905. It was in use till the mid 1950s when Texas built a Supreme Court building across from the Capitol. Such landmark cases like Sweatt v. Painter started out here.

And barely a few miles away from the Capitol is the University of Texas at Austin, the site of this year’s blockbuster affirmative actiona case, Fisher v. University of Texas, at Austin.

Here is a picture of the famous tower on campus (I waited but that car would not get out of the way).

And here is a picture of Abigail Fisher:

Also, while I’m on the topic of Texas and the Constitution, I find fascinating monuments to the Civil War in the South that make no reference to the Civil War. Such as this one:

Below the monument is the Seal of the Confederate States of America (which depicts George Washington riding a horse).

It reads:

Died for state rights guaranteed by the Constitution. The people of the South, animated by the spirit of 1776, to preserve their rights, withdrew from the federal compact in 1861. The North resorted to coercion. The South against overwhelming numbers and resources fought until exhausted. During the war there were twenty two hundred and fifty seven engagements and eighteen hundred and eighty-two of these, at least one regiment took part. Number of men enlisted: Confederate Armies: 600,000. Federal Armies: 2,859,132. Losses from all causes. Confederate: 457,000. Federal: 485,216.

I’m a bit confused about the fighting for the rights in the same compact they withdrew from, but whatever. The bottom part, which lists how they were outnumbered by a factor of almost 5, yet killed more Yankees, seems quite triumphalist.

Welcome to Texas, I suppose.