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New Constitution Museum To Open

A new national museum honoring the Constitution will open July 4, and its curators say the timing couldn't be better for a monument to the national charter.

Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is scheduled to join a list of politicians and celebrities at the dedication of the $185 million National Constitution Center, whose glass-walled galleries will offer sweeping views of the Constitution's historic birthplace, Independence Hall, three blocks to the south.

The museum on Independence Mall was conceived more than a decade ago and has been under construction for three years, but opens at a time of heightened patriotism following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and concern that civil liberties might be compromised by the clampdown on terror.

"That is the challenge that the framers faced, the challenge of balancing liberty with security, and it is a challenge that has echoed down through the ages," said Stephen Frank, the center's director of research. "It is an opportunity for us — the fact that these kinds of questions have risen — and they are issues we confront."

The museum embraces 216 years of constitutional controversy.

One of Florida's infamous butterfly ballots from the 2000 presidential election will be on display. So will tickets to President Andrew Johnson's 1868 impeachment trial, and a lock pick used during the 1972 Watergate burglary.

When the museum picked 100 Americans to be featured in an exhibit called the National Family Tree, it bypassed presidents and politicians in favor of many who fell into the history lexicon by less traditional means. For example, Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt was included for his court battles over free speech and pornography.

There is a collection of petitions sent to Congress demanding the abolition of slavery and the establishment of women's suffrage and rights for American Indians.

The prize artifact of the National Constitution Center, established by Congress in 1988, is a copy of the Constitution printed Sept. 19, 1787, two days after its signing — one of only 20 surviving copies from the first public printing.