John Armor

Reddy Finney, Joe Enge, and the US Constitution
Posted by John Armor on Nov 13, 2005 - 7:35:00 PM

The Carson City, Nevada, school administrators are attempting to fire an award-winning history teacher, Joe Enge.  Why should that matter to you?  I’ll combine his story with that of my 11th grade history teacher.  Maybe you’ll agree this matters to everyone who cares about the future of America.


In Carson City schools, administrators insist that history teachers begin teaching American history with the Civil War.  Joe Enge, an 11th grade teacher there who’s written two history books and has served on a statewide board on history teaching, disagrees.  He begins at the beginning, teaching his students about the American Revolution, and the Constitution which was created, after one false start.


The school board is now considering whether to fire him for insubordination, for refusing to ignore half of American history, in teaching his students.


Why should this matter?


I offer the example of C. Redmond (“Reddy”) Finney, my 11th grade history teacher, back when ice covered the Earth.  Our text book had the Constitution printed in the back.  Reddy encouraged us to read it, and explained arcane phrases like “letters of marque and reprisal.”  He encouraged us to apply what we read to the stories in the newspapers.


That was when the nation was moving toward the 1960 election between Vice President Richard Nixon and Senator John Kennedy.  The future of the nation was about to be contested, once again, between the Republicans and the Democrats.  I read the Constitution through.  Then I read it two more times.  Nowhere did it refer to either of those political parties, or to parties at all.  My curiosity was aroused.


At Yale, I took almost by happenstance (but encouraged by Reddy Finney) an undergraduate course in Constitutional Law.  The fascination continued.  While my classmates were on the beach for Spring Break in 1964, I was in the library, reading Supreme Court cases for a paper in that class.


I lead that class in Constitutional Law.  In 1970, in the required course in Constitutional Law at Maryland Law School, again I led my class.  My Professor was Sandy Rosen, who left a year later to become Legal Director of the ACLU in New York.  Just before leaving, he was asked by the campaign of Dr. Benjamin Spock, People’s Party candidate for President, to challenge Maryland election laws for excluding him from the ballot in 1972.


Rosen said he was leaving and couldn’t take the case.  Asked for a recommendation, he suggested me.  It was the first case I ever handled in any court on any issue.  It was consolidated with a similar challenge by George Wallace’s American Party.  For reasons I’ll skip here, the court ordered me to argue the case for both Spock and Wallace.


The court denied relief.  I called Sandy Rosen about it.  He asked if I wanted the case taken to the Supreme Court.  It took a nanosecond to say yes.  The Supreme Court also denied relief.  But I was hooked on constitutional law.  In 1976, I got my first win in that Court, for Eugene McCarthy, independent candidate for President.  The Court ordered Texas to put his name on the ballot. 


In 1983, I played a key role in the Supreme Court case affirming the right of John Anderson, independent, to run for President in 1980.  In 2000 I filed a brief in Bush v. Palm Beach Canvassing Board, concerning the conduct of the recounts in Florida for President that year.  Mine was the only brief which urged the Court “to strike” the Florida decision from the record.  And that was what the Court did, unanimously, when it first took the case.


None of that career in constitutional law would have occurred, without the interest awakened by Reddy Finney, my 11th grade history teacher.  The point is obvious.  Somewhere among the students of Joe Enge could be some who will make their mark in the future of our constitutional republic – as lawyers, as elected officials, as government leaders.


But will they get those opportunities if they are denied the encouragement of a teacher who teaches about the longest surviving constitution in history?  I’d say what happens to Joe Enge is vitally important to the future of America. 


If you agree, contact Superintendent Mary Pierczynski in Carson City, Nevada.  You’ll have to try real hard to get through to her.  Right now, her e-mail has crashed and her phones are jammed, by thousands of Americans protesting her effort to fire Joe Enge, and to consign the Constitution to an asterisk in history.



About the Author: John Armor is a First Amendment attorney and author who lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.