McDaniel graduate returns to lecture on Constitutional law
By Carrie Ann Knauer, Carroll County Times
Victor McTeer, now retired after more than 30 years of working on civil rights and other cases in the South, is teaching a class this week on the Constitution at McDaniel College, his undergraduate alma mater.
McTeer graduated from McDaniel College, then Western Maryland College, in 1969, and went on to graduate from Rutgers School of Law in 1972. Through Western Maryland College’s Student Opportunities Service, McTeer went to the Mississippi Delta and Deep South to participate in the civil rights struggle. After graduating from law school, he moved to Greenville, Miss., to practice law and continue efforts to work for civil rights in the South.
McTeer was invited to teach at Common Ground on the Hill at McDaniel College this week, and is presenting a class on constitutional law to a mixed class of lawyers and people with a mere interest in constitutional law.
Tuesday, McTeer gave his students an overview of the Bill of Rights and how the amendments protect civil rights, as well as some other civil rights statutes that are less well-known by the general public.
The Bill of Rights isn’t something most Americans think about, McTeer said, until they are caught up in the law.
“If you got in trouble, you’d remember the Sixth Amendment real quick,” McTeer said, speaking of the constitutional right to a speedy and public trial, to be confronted by witnesses against you and the assistance of counsel for your defense.
Students took notes on each amendment, some nodding their heads in recognition of what they learned years ago.
“These rules are what make us different in this world, and every country in the world has said we are great because we have them,” McTeer said.
McTeer gave examples from his own experiences of the difficulty of proving that certain rights have been infringed upon. He told a story about members of the Ku Klux Klan in Chattanooga, Tenn., who drove a truck through town with a sawed-off shotgun filled with birdshot, shooting at five black women, all over the age of 60.
Three of the women were hit, but didn’t see where the shots had come from, McTeer said. The other two women saw and ducked, but weren’t shot.
Fighting the case and representing the five women as a whole was difficult, McTeer said, because technically only some of the women had been assaulted, some had been battered and the penalties for both of those charges seemed minimal compared to the frightening experiences of the women who lived through the event.
Instead, McTeer used a statute from the Civil Rights Act of 1871 to say that the three Klan members had conspired to deny the black women of their rights based on their race. He won, he said, and is one of less than a dozen lawyers to have used that statute successfully.
McTeer challenged his students to delve into the Constitution, to find the source of the rights we believe we have.
“This is going to be an assignment – I’ve always wanted to give an assignment – where is the right to privacy?” McTeer challenged his students to research overnight. “Y’all have a tremendous advantage I never had – Wikipedia, Google.”
McTeer said it can be difficult to discuss law with people who haven’t studied it, but in a way, all trial lawyers must break the law down into simple ideas so jury members can understand them.
“Inevitably, you can see the eyes open when people begin to realize that these rules really affect them, and when a court or people call for the restriction of those rights, there can suddenly be a recognition of what they’re giving up,” McTeer said. “A lot of people don’t know that, and they don’t understand, unfortunately, in our free society, what one needs to do in order to protect those freedoms.”