On Tuesday, Sept. 17, Baylor University President and respected legal authority Ken Starr spoke to TJC students about the Constitution and its importance to everyday life, then accepted questions.Tyler Junior College students and faculty, as well as select John Tyler High School students, had the privilege of attending a speech by Baylor University President and noted legal figure Judge Kenneth Starr in the Apache Rooms of the Rogers Student Center.
At 3p.m., around 300 people assembled to hear Judge Starr. His topic, in honor of Constitution Day, was the framing and writing of the United States Constitution, as well as it’s continuing application to our daily lives.
Judge Starr is uniquely qualified to speak on the Constitution. Before he became the 14th president of Baylor University, he had a prominent career in law and government. He served as United Stated Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia from 1981 to 1983, as Solicitor General of the United States from 1989 to 1993, and has argued 25 cases before the Supreme Court. Starr was also appointed as an independent counsel to five governmental investigations from 1994 to 1999, including the Whitewater scandal. Starr is perhaps best known as the author of the infamous Starr Report, which exposed then-President Bill Clinton’s extra-marital affair with Monica Lewinski in 1998. To this day, Judge Starr remains one of the leading figures in Constitutional law and education.
TJC President Dr. Mike Metke opened the proceedings, saying that he hoped to make the invitation of a guest speaker an annual Constitution Day tradition. He then introduced the next introductory speaker, prominent local attorney and Baylor University graduate Andy Tindle.Tindle listed some of Judge Starr’s accomplishments, and then yielded the floor for the main event.
With all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the event, Judge Starr’s first words were a shock to all present. Before he began his speech, he made a point of inviting Tindle back onto the stage, to show the audience Tindle’s colorful socks.
The lighthearted attitude continued as Judge Starr began his speech with the words “Ever known someone who was just negative?”
He said that negative people with bad attitudes never get anywhere in life, never achieve anything lasting and are a misery to all those around them. By way of contrast, he said optimists were the right people to imitate, and always have been.
“There were a lot of negative people when the Constitution was written,” Judge Starr said, “but you can’t let yourself get dragged down by them. If they had gotten their way, there would be no Declaration of Independence, no Constitution. Slavery might still be legal. Women might not have the right to vote.”
He said that if there had been modern polling organizations in the 18th Century, they would have found a “divided America.” Judge Starr claimed about a third of Americans supported independence, a third were loyalists, and the remainder were “on the fence.” He said the situation was much the same in 1787, when it became clear that the Articles of Confederation, which governed America during the Revolutionary War, were no longer sufficient to govern the 13 colonies. Still, some supported it, and some, like fiery speaker Patrick Henry, refused even to attend the convention for fear the Constitution would lead to an overreach of federal power.
Judge Starr took a metaphorical step back, and spoke directly to TJC students.
“You have a good campus here,” he said. “You have those yellow lanyards. They show commonality. They show that you belong. They show that no matter how different you all are, you are all members of the same college.”
Much the same applied to the Constitutional Convention, he said. The Constitution produced was imperfect, such as its toleration of slavery, but it represented a masterpiece of compromise, of people with radically different views and opinions meeting together and working out a solution that would satisfy all concerned. On the other hand, he presented the counterexample: the person who will “never compromise.” Far from the common perception of such a person as strong and unbending, Judge Starr said that they have said, “With all due respect, I won’t listen. I don’t respect you.”
Following his speech, Judge Starr devoted time in excess of half an hour to answering questions from students and faculty on political and policy considerations as they relate to the Constitution, including gun control, separation of church and state, drug enforcement, and advice on how to initiate a successful career in law or politics.
His questioning period finished, Judge Starr left the stage amidst much applause, and the meeting dispersed.