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Bruce S. Jenkins is senior district judge for the U.S. District Court for Utah.
Op-ed: Federal judge reminds legislators to honor these words

By Bruce S. Jenkins

First Published Feb 22 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Feb 22 2014 01:01 am

I hope that every legislator, national or local, will read, understand, and take to heart the following 108 words.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

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"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

The first 56 words are from the Declaration of Independence. The second 52 words from the Preamble to the Constitution The first 56 speak from 1776. The second 52 from 1789.

The first tells why government at all. The second states our common purpose, common ideals, towards which we reach and for which we expend our energies each day. Although the words have matured in meaning, as we have matured, they have never been improved upon as to why have government and for what purpose.

I sometimes wonder if some of our Legislators suffer from Historic Amnesia as to why government and for what purpose. One-hundred-eight words. It’s all there.

Nothing about shutting down. Nothing about debt ceilings. Nothing about mindless sequestration. Nothing about extended continuing resolutions to fund the government. Nothing about leaving important offices vacant, not just for weeks or months, but years. Nothing about failing to budget by the self-imposed deadlines — at least nationally — by October first. Nothing about refusing to cut off debate and then not being required to be present or to speak (the silent filibuster is certainly a novelty). Nothing about passing legislation that you haven’t read.

Nothing about letting the immigration problem morph from a 3 million-person problem in 1982 to a 13 million- to 15 million-person problem today. Nothing about revising a tax structure so complex and fraught with special benefits that is seems to exist in all of its unfairness in perpetuity; to mention just a few matters of interest.

One-hundred-eight words. They are not just any words. They are important. They are American scripture. They are easy to remember and make our own. They are the measure of what all of us do in the public domain, we honor them by what we do and damn them by what we don’t do. It’s all there for the doing. It’s all there. Read and embrace. Honor them.

Honor them.

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Bruce S. Jenkins is a senior judge in the U.S. District Court for Utah and a former president of the Utah State Senate.

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