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Judiciary, New Citizens and Students Honor Constitution Day

New citizens across the country participated in the federal Judiciary’s annual celebration of Constitution Day and Citizenship Day by taking part in nearly 30 naturalization ceremonies. Many students witnessed the ceremonies, which celebrate our nation’s civic heritage and welcome new Americans to U.S. citizenship.

View a video from on the ceremonies. More video footage from the events is scheduled for release next week.

Constitution Day honors the date—Sept. 17, 1787—when 39 delegates signed the newly drafted Constitution in Philadelphia. Citizenship Day, celebrated at the same time, recognizes all who, by birth or naturalization, have become U.S. citizens.

This year was the first in which federal courts coordinated a nationwide celebration involving naturalization events. One ceremony was held Sept. 16, at Simon Estes Riverfront Amphitheater in Des Moines, Iowa. The Sept. 17 events included naturalizations at the National Archives in Washington, the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park, the Alamo, and at universities and historic federal courthouses.

Federal judges administered the oath of citizenship at each location, swearing in an estimated total of 8,500 new citizens. By far the largest ceremony was at the Los Angeles Convention Center, where more than 6,600 new Americans took the oath of citizenship.

In Des Moines, U.S. District Judge Robert W. Pratt told about 65 new citizens that immigrants had played a key role in renewing our nation’s energy and ideals. But he also said citizenship carries obligations: “You have a duty to be informed,” Pratt said. “You have a duty to vote, to serve on a jury and pay taxes. You also have a duty to work to make the United States the country that you hoped to find, and that you want it to be.”

In Portland, Maine, the ceremony was conducted by U.S. District Judge George Singal, who is a naturalized citizen. In New York, a ceremony at the historic Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse was led by Robert Katzmann, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, who recalled his own family’s immigrant heritage, including a father persecuted by Nazi Germany.

“No event in a courthouse is more moving than the swearing in of new citizens,” Katzmann said. “They’ve passed every test. They know more about this country and its laws than most citizens born in this country. And knowing how immigrants have made this country great, as the son of an immigrant and the grandson of an immigrant …. it’s especially moving to me to welcome these extraordinary people to our country as citizens.”

The events also placed a major emphasis on civics education. Nationally, an estimated 1,500 students from elementary school through college witnessed the naturalizations or participated by presenting the Colors; leading the pledge of Allegiance; signing the National Anthem; or presenting letters to new citizens.

In Washington, D.C., 35 immigrants were naturalized in the National Archives, surrounded by the nation's founding documents. "It actually does not get any better than it did today," U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, who administered the oath of citizenship, said after the ceremony. "To be in this historic building, in the presence of the original United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence, to welcome our newest Americans? It's the highlight of being a federal judge."

The Constitution Day and Citizenship Day celebration was co-sponsored by the Civics Renewal Network, a 26-organization consortium that includes the U.S. courts. Another network partner, the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, issued a poll showing that Americans show “great uncertainty when it comes to answering basic questions about how their government works.” The poll found that just over one-third of those responding could identify all three branches of government—while an almost identical percentage could not identify any of the branches.

Related Topics: Events and Ceremonies