Segments in this Video

Government, Technology and the Constitution (02:05)


Modern technology gives government powers that the Constitution writers did not anticipate. The 1787 Constitution is tested by the issues of 1987.

Constitution in Nuclear Age (01:14)

If the Framers created a government for very different times. The world of nuclear weapons and the War Room challenges the Founders' vision of Congressional deliberation before war.

Unchecked Corporate Power (02:03)

The Founders' view of the private sector as a check on government is outmoded, an ACLU official argues. Corporations are a greater threat to liberties than government today, but the Constitution limits only government.

Company Drug Tests (01:46)

Drug testing by corporations has millions worried about their rights. At the Bath Iron Works shipbuilding factories in Maine, Teamsters battle the company over the issue; a group of workers is interviewed.

Drug Tests as Violation of Rights (02:09)

Workers say it is not the company's business what they do on their time. Drug tests are humiliating, and rumors spread. The accused do not have to face their accusers.

Rights on the Job (02:06)

Moyers notes the national security importance of building good naval ships and makes the case that companies can control their property. A worker counters that the Constitution should apply against companies, not just government.

Company President Defends Tests (03:09)

As part of the fight against drugs, the Navy pressured Bath Iron Works to implement tests. The company President sees testing as a social duty and says businesses' responsibility to cover workers' health gives them the right to test.

Fourth Amendment Values and Modern Workplace (03:11)

An ACLU official argues for the rights of the innocent, even amid a crime wave. The Fourth Amendment does not reach the workplace, but its values should apply there.

Right to Privacy (01:28)

Though the word privacy does not appear in the Constitution, an advocate argues, the Fourth Amendment protects it. The Bill of Rights is an expression of values, which we should now apply to corporations, not just government.

Maine Legislative Debate (02:41)

The Maine legislature drafted legislation limiting drug testing by private employers, engaging in debates over liberty and general welfare reminiscent of the Constitutional Convention.

Microchips and the Fourth Amendment (02:01)

Microchips test the Constitution's protection of personal information. Personal papers used to be in houses, protected by the Fourth Amendment; the Court has declined to extend it to papers in the custody of businesses.

Social Security as Identification (02:04)

Information now persists over time because of computers. Social security numbers have become a national ID that allows access to this information.

Challenge to Congressional War-making Power (01:04)

Framers worried about the Executive's propensity to war and gave Congress the power to declare war. The nuclear age makes this seem outdated; Congress has not declared war since WWII.

Presidents' Unilateral Wars (01:32)

The Korean War was fought without declaration, justified by the President's power as Commander-in-Chief. Kennedy, not Congress, made decisions over the Cuban Missile Crisis. Johnson used the Tonkin Gulf Resolution to go to war in Vietnam.

Congress Loses Control Over War (02:03)

An expert says Congress had authorized all our wars until Korea. Depression and WWII created executive aggrandizement, and the Cold War created a condition of war in our mind, leading to the bypassing of Congress.

President's Right to Defend Country (02:32)

The Constitution's language of Congress declaring rather than deciding on war leaves room for Presidential defense against surprise attack. The requirement of Congressional declaration creates a presumption that peace is normal.

War Powers Clause and the Nuclear Age (01:28)

The guest argues that modern technology only strengthens presumption against war. It may make the Framers' vision less realistic, however, Moyers suggests.

NORAD and the War Powers Clause (03:09)

At the NORAD headquarters in the Rockies, a chain of decisions leading the U.S. to nuclear war could begin. At the control room Moyers interviews an officer tasked with evaluating threats and providing the President information within minutes.

NORAD's Process (01:03)

NORAD will get indications of an attack within 60 seconds; how soon it informs the President depends on the world situation. The President has minutes to respond.

Computers Deciding on War (02:05)

The Constitution empowers the President to protect against sudden attack, but an analyst argues that our nuclear defense leaves the decision largely in the hands of computers, whose information is imperfect.

Lack of Nuclear Flexibility (01:41)

Our procedures leave little room for deliberation and little flexibility for the President. If deterrence fails, we want the President to be able to consider the situation and embody our values.

Congress and Nuclear Strategy (01:52)

A Constitutional scholar argues that if our strategy predetermines a nuclear response, Congress needs to be involved in approving the strategy. Moyers argues that Congress already effectively endorses strategy.

Limits to President's Inherent Rights (01:26)

The President has the right to respond unilaterally to a Soviet strike, but the nature of the response can be restrained by law, with considerations such as proportional response.

Constitutional Problems With NATO (02:40)

The guest argues Congress would need to approve a nuclear response to a conventional Soviet attack on Western Europe; NATO may be unconstitutional. Congress should ban first use of nuclear weapons without approval.

Decisions Without Public Deliberation (01:32)

Nuclear questions have been delegated to experts. Decisions such as launch-on-warning made implicitly and evolutionarily. This threatens democracy, a guest worries.

Constitution's Continued Relevance (02:39)

Eighteenth-century Constitutional restraints do not always apply today, a guest argues; technological change and perpetual crisis challenge it. However, it provides an adequate structure; the question is whether we make good decisions under it.

Moyers' Closing Thoughts (02:08)

The Framers did not intend to shackle us in their world; we make the Constitution our own. They do not give us guidance on specific modern issues, but on how to reconcile our conflicts, rejecting arbitrariness.

Sponsors & Credits: Contemporary Life v. the Constitution (02:00)

Sponsors & Credits: Contemporary Life v. the Constitution

For additional digital leasing and purchase options contact a media consultant at 800-257-5126
(press option 3) or

Contemporary Life v. the Constitution

Part of the Series : In Search of the Constitution
DVD Price: $79.95
DVD + 3-Year Streaming Price: $119.93
3-Year Streaming Price: $79.95



When the authors of the Constitution met in 1787, they could not possibly have imagined what the world would be like 200 years later. This program examines two controversies today that have become tests of the Constitution—the use of mandatory drug testing by companies and the establishment of widely-accessible "dossiers" of personal information on computers, which the Supreme Court has ruled are not protected by the Constitution. (60 minutes)

Length: 58 minutes

Item#: BVL4915

ISBN: 978-1-4213-9254-7

Copyright date: ©1987

Closed Captioned

Performance Rights

Prices include public performance rights.

Not available to Home Video customers.

Only available in USA and Canada.