PBS’ “Constitution USA” breathes new life into the historic document

Three of the most majestic — certainly the most democratic — words in the English language are the start of the United States Constitution: “We the people.”

To see how the Constitution continues to be brought to life, Peter Sagal (pictured) of NPR’s Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me! news quiz show sets out across the country on a customized red, white and blue Harley-Davidson, interviewing various people along the way. The result is PBS’ four-week series Constitution USA With Peter Sagal.

“The great thing about Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me! is it treats everything with no respect,” Sagal says. “This was the opportunity to talk about something I care about without having to make a joke.”

What comes through in Constitution USA is how seriously people take the Constitution.

“It’s epic!” says Yale University law professor Akhil Amar. “It’s actually the most democratic deed in the history of planet Earth.”

Using clever graphics and weaving in interviews, Sagal examines the history of the document and demonstrates how it remains relevant. Among the ways he illustrates states’ rights versus federal law is by showing a medical marijuana supplier in Oakland, Calif., who frets about going to prison. His business, though state-sanctioned, is illegal under federal law. In Missoula, Mont., Sagal talks with a gun enthusiast, Gary Marbut, who feels the federal government is too far-reaching.

“The state government is much more subject to the will of the people because it is closer to the people,” Marbut says.

Constitution USA reveals how Americans constantly grapple with the Constitution.

“What needs to be taught more, what people need to understand, is that the Constitution provides us with a method to answer the question, not the means,” Sagal says.

Sagal reminds us how vibrant the document is by introducing viewers to people like Minnijean Brown Trickey. Now a gray-haired elderly woman, she’s remembered as one of the Little Rock Nine students, who integrated public schools there with protection from federal troops. Trickey and a soldier who protected her from the protesters reunite in front of the high school, living examples of those first three words, “We the people.”

Constitution USA With Peter Sagal premieres May 7 at 9pm ET, and airs Tuesdays through May 28 (check local listings).

Watch Constitution USA with Peter Sagal on PBS. See more from Constitution USA with Peter Sagal.


Constitution USA With Peter Sagal: Courtesy of Christopher Buchanan/Insignia Films