On September 17th, 2017, the American Museum of Tort Law celebrated Constitution Day with Emmy Award Winning television icon Phil Donahue interviewing Yale Professor Akil Reed Amar.
The museum’s record breaking crowd of 246 attendees sat in the pews of the Winsted United Methodist Church for an event reminiscent of a live version of the Phil Donahue program.
After Rick Newman, Executive Director of the American Museum of Tort Law, introduced Ralph Nader to a thunderous standing ovation, Nader shared fond memories of Phil Donahue’s involvement in the Winsted community including his work to keep the hospital in Winsted, an effort that eventually led to the Health Center, and Donahue’s early support as a founder of the thriving American Museum of Tort Law.
The enthusiasm was palpable as Phil Donahue took the microphone. Ever the expert showman, Donahue’s comedic timing and quick wit warmed up the crowd. Donahue shared his own memories of trying to get Ralph Nader onto his talk show, which at that time was running in Ohio. After taking the extraordinary step of meeting Nader at the airport in Kentucky, Nader agreed to come on the program. Donahue considered Nader’s work to get seatbelts in cars “historic” and felt honored to have a front row seat to the effort that has saved countless lives. Phil Donahue was especially gratified to witness for himself the extraordinary American Museum of Tort Law, a museum that was “not full of relics” but was in fact, “alive”.
When introducing Professor Amar, Phil Donahue read so many accolades rightfully earned by the professor that he added, “He’s the son my mother wanted to have”.
The conversation was lively and engaging. Donahue gave a master class in the art of the interview, providing levity without intrusiveness with questions that were probing without being argumentative. Professor Reed, the expert in the field of Constitutional law, took on controversial topics head on, providing sound reasoning for his views supported by facts.
Professor Amar took on topics like DACA and the Dreamers, the Second Amendment, Bush V. Gore, Citizens United and more. His answers were measured and clear and did not stay on one side of the political spectrum or the other. For instance he advised his opinion on the constitutionality of Citizens United, a controversial decision, and he supported the second amendment though allowing for some regulation befitting some situations. In discussing the Dreamers, he advised our language was imprecise for calling people “illegals” or “undocumented’ were not accurate terms and instead advised the real term was “unauthorized”. Most strenuously he opposed Bush V Gore, stating it was not the court’s responsibility to select presidents, it’s the public’s responsibility to choose presidents and from there, the president’s responsibility to select judges for the (Supreme) Court.
Then Phil Donahue entered the crowd and gave the audience the opportunity to ask questions of the Professor. From the Patriot Act to Merrick Garland to the Electoral College vs the Popular Vote, Donahue kept the microphone moving, the audience engaged while the Professor provided thoughtful analyses of the issues.
In the end the “take home” message from Professor Amar was the importance of knowing the Constitution and voting, which was a perfect message for Constitution Day.
The program came to a close and the guests of honor returned to the American Museum of Tort Law for a book signing….and photos.