William and Mary Law School

Bill of Rights Education

IBRL Logo“It having been found from universal experience, that the most express declarations and reservations are necessary to protect the just rights and liberty of mankind . . . it is submitted . . .
[t]hat the new constitution proposed for the government of the United States be bottomed upon a declaration or bill of rights, clearly and precisely stating the principles upon which this social compact is founded.”

     Richard Henry Lee to Edmund Randolph, October 16, 1787

Bill of Rights Education

The Institute of Bill of Rights Law is committed to educating the broader public about the Bill of Rights. All of the Institute’s programs are free and open to the public, and attract a national audience as well as many members of the local community.

In 2010, the Student Division created Constitutional Conversations, an educational community out-reach program in cooperation with the Williamsburg Library and Colonial Williamsburg (see Constitutional Conversations.com).

Before and During Ratification of the Constitution:

Madison’s Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

What is a constitution? Is it a commission of agency from people-principals to agents, or a social contract? Is it both of these, or is it something else entirely? And what is a bill of rights—was one contemplated in the convention that drafted the Constitution? What were the arguments for and against one?

All of these questions find answers in James Madison’s Notes of Debates. The Virginia statesman, often called the “father” of the Constitution, took upon himself the painstaking duty of recording the debates in the Constitutional Convention. “I chose a seat in front of the presiding member [George Washington],” he said, and “was not absent a single day.” Published after his death, they are the sine qua non of informed Constitutional reflection.

The Federalist Papers

After the Constitution was drafted and signed by the members of the Convention, it was sent by Congress to the states for ratification. With this, a battle ensued in America's newspapers between the “Federalists,” the Constitution's supporters, and the “Antifederalists,” its critics. Should it be ratified as written? Or should the states propose changes, and call a second convention to incorporate them? Should a bill of rights be added?

The most rigorous series of newspaper articles, eighty-five in all, was written by John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison. It was called The Federalist. Popularly known today as The Federalist Papers, this work continues to stand tall as a masterpiece of political philosophy.

The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution
The Documentary History is the preeminent collection of articles, letters, speeches, and other documentary records surrounding the ratification of the Constitution.

After Ratification of the Constitution:

The U.S. Supreme Court
Need we say more?

Findlaw’s Cases and Codes
Findlaw is a sizable database of free cases, codes, and other legal documents.

Findlaw’s Constitutional Law Center
This is Findlaw’s free searchable database of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, with cases from 1893-present.

The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression
The Thomas Jefferson Center is an organization devoted to the defense of free expression.

The Jurist
The Jurist is a good source for daily legal news and real-time legal research. It claims to be “world's only law school-based comprehensive legal news and research service.”

The Supreme Court Collection of the Legal Information Institute
The LII is Cornell University’s pioneering effort to establish free access to legal information.

The Supreme Court Historical Society

The Supreme Court Historical Society is a non-profit organization founded in 1974 by Chief Justice Warren Burger. It is dedicated to the collection of artifacts and antiques related to the Court, and preservation of its history through scholarly research, lectures, and publishing activity.