PROVO, Utah — The United States Constitution remains "a most remarkable document" that was shaped by God's hand, Elder Neal A. Maxwell told graduates of BYU's law school Sept. 4.
"If pondered — both as to its substance and the miraculous process of its coming forth — the Constitution is deserving of our prolonged, spiritual applause," said Elder Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve.
More than 1,000 alumni, students, friends and sponsors of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School — including President James E. Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency; BYU President Cecil O. Samuelson of the Seventy; and Justice Michael Wilkins of the Utah Supreme Court — attended the Founder's Day Dinner, held in the Grand America Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City.
Offering remarks at the banquet, Elder Maxwell said that while he could not speak to the assembly from shared professional experience, he could speak from a shared theology.
"The scriptures contain so many jewels, brothers and sisters, over which we pass too lightly, especially what I call some stunning 'one liners,' " Elder Maxwell said.
One such cluster, he added, has to do with the unique founding of the American nation.
"The Lord revealed that He established our Constitution 'by the hands of wise men whom [He] raised up unto this very purpose,' " Elder Maxwell said, quoting Doctrine and Covenants 101:80. "I know of no parallel declaration with regard to the Constitution of any other nation, ours being the first written constitution."
The revealed words, given in 1833 in Ohio, clearly remind Church members "that God's hand is in the details of such things — sometimes obviously, sometimes subtly."
"Think of all the Lord had to oversee, including all the shaping events which occurred long before the Constitution was written, ratified and implemented," Elder Maxwell said.
First, he said, it was necessary for God to cause a handful of highly talented and wise individuals to be "raised up."
Second, they needed to live in one geographic area on this planet.
Third, these events had to occur in a short time frame.
Fourth, a citizenry had to be prepared who wanted and would then implement and sustain self-governance.
"This latter incubation was as important as the later ratification," he said. "Thus the words, 'raised up,' involve multiple and concurrent conditions. Without similar incubation, no wonder we find in human history that establishing modern republics and democracies is not easy. Founders require foundational building blocks."
Elder Maxwell said that the Constitution, of course, not only needed to be written, but also ratified — gaining approval after dramatic moments and by narrow margins.
"The process was no picnic," he said. "Thus not only was a special parchment produced, but so were a sufficient number of approving and sustaining people."
Elder Maxwell said human history makes "abundantly and sadly clear" that not all mortals use power wisely.
"Unsurprisingly, therefore, certain of the Constitutions' central features — such as the vital separation of powers and the precious First Amendment, as conceived and intended — were needed to foster moral agency," he said. "This later condition is so central to God's plan of salvation for all mortals. Back in the founding days, however, these and other key concepts needed cleats which would take hold early in the history of the American nation. Otherwise, things could have come apart soon after the birth of a nation."
The bestowal of such divine attention on a few mere colonies located on one planet is especially reassuring, said Elder Maxwell, "given God's governance among 'worlds without number' (Moses 1:33, 35)."
Elder Maxwell then spoke to the law school graduates about the law. "As alumni, what you are is more important that what you know about the law," he said. "The influence of your character, long term, is more significant than legal expertise, though how commendable when both are combined."
Therefore, he told the graduates, as they manage conflict, to practice advocacy without acrimony and without animosity. "Be eloquent, not only before the bench, but also eloquent in your life's example," he said. "And you need your own checks and balances, including at times the constraining influence of the Spirit."
Slack citizenry and cunning devices can over time corrupt even a constitutional system, he said.
"Lawyers can first shape and then exploit the voice of the people, which, if done amiss, can bring the judgments of God."
The Constitution, he said, "remains a most remarkable document. Nevertheless, the various interpretations of the Constitution are more reflective of the moral status of America's citizenry, its lawyers, and its judges than we may care to acknowledge."
Quoting Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Elder Maxwell said the citizens who founded this nation understood the relationship between self-government and citizen responsibilities.
"Therefore, while we cannot fully fathom all that was done in order to raise up wise individuals, I nevertheless praise God for the miracle which came forth."