Synopses & Reviews
Despite its venerated place atop American law and politics, our written Constitution does not enumerate all of the rules and rights, principles and procedures that actually govern modern America. The document makes no explicit mention of cherished concepts like the separation of powers and the rule of law. On some issues, the plain meaning of the text misleads. For example, the text seems to say that the vice president presides over his own impeachment trialand#151;but surely this cannot be right. As esteemed legal scholar Akhil Reed Amar explains in Americaand#8217;s Unwritten Constitution
, the solution to many constitutional puzzles lies not solely within the written document, but beyond itand#151;in the vast trove of values, precedents, and practices that complement and complete the terse text.
In this sequel to Americaand#8217;s Constitution: A Biography, Amar takes readers on a tour of our nationand#8217;s unwritten Constitution, showing how Americaand#8217;s foundational document cannot be understood in textual isolation. Proper constitutional interpretation depends on a variety of factors, such as the precedents set by early presidents and Congresses; common practices of modern American citizens; venerable judicial decisions; and particularly privileged sources of inspiration and guidance, including the Federalist papers, William Blackstoneand#8217;s Commentaries on the Laws of England, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, Lincolnand#8217;s Gettysburg Address, and Martin Luther King, Jr.and#8217;s and#147;I Have a Dreamand#8221; speech. These diverse supplements are indispensible instruments for making sense of the written Constitution. When used correctly, these extra-textual aids support and enrich the written document without supplanting it.
An authoritative work by one of Americaand#8217;s preeminent legal scholars, Americaand#8217;s Unwritten Constitution presents a bold new vision of the American constitutional system, showing how the complementary relationship between the Constitutionand#8217;s written and unwritten components is one of Americaand#8217;s greatest and most enduring strengths.
"Yale law professor Amar follows his highly regarded historical-textual analysis of America's Constitution with a companion volume on the history, culture, and legal tenets of the 'unwritten constitution,' the traditions and precedents that inform constitutional interpretation. Amar proposes that the unwritten constitution is by necessity on equal grounds with the written one and provides the context for unraveling the many questions the Constitution leaves undetermined. In effect, the unwritten constitution fills the gaps necessary to make the Constitution a working, living document. Among the 'documents' Amar cites are the precepts of early English jurisprudence; Supreme Court decisions, including cases that are notorious because they were wrongly decided; and famous speeches, like the Gettysburg Address that presaged the meaning of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Among the many examples Amar uses to explain the interplay between the written and unwritten Constitution are death penalty jurisprudence, the right to a jury trial, and the establishment clause of the First Amendment. He also examines the constitutionality of special prosecutors, political parties, and filibusters to effectively make his point: the Constitution's textual limitations and its interpretation require acknowledging the unwritten constitution. Sophisticated readers will be rewarded for traveling with Amar as he covers a great deal of ground. Agents: Glen Hartley and Lynn Chu. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Akhil Reed Amar is the Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University, and also occasionally serves as a visiting professor at Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, and Pepperdine Law Schools. Also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Senior Scholar at the National Constitution Center, Amar has written four books and has contributed to prominent publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, and Slate.com. His last book, Americas Constitution: A Biography, won the Silver Gavel Award from the American Bar Association; his previous book, The Bill of Rights: Creation and Reconstruction, was awarded a Silver Gavel Certificate of Merit from the American Bar Association, as well as a Yale University Press Governors Award. Also the winner of a Bator Award from the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, Amar is frequently cited by the Supreme Court, and formerly served as a consultant on NBCs The West Wing.
Table of Contents
1. Reading Between the Lines: Americaand#8217;s Implicit Constitution
2. Heeding the Deed: Americaand#8217;s Enacted Constitution
3. Hearing the People: Americaand#8217;s Lived Constitution
4. Confronting Modern Case Law: Americaand#8217;s and#147;Warrentedand#8221; Constitution
5. Putting Precedent in Its Place: Americaand#8217;s Doctrinal Constitution
6. Honoring the Icons: Americaand#8217;s Symbolic Constitution
7. and#147;Remembering the Ladiesand#8221;: Americaand#8217;s Feminist Constitution
8. Following Washingtonand#8217;s Lead: Americaand#8217;s and#147;Georgianand#8221; Constitution
9. Interpreting Government Practices: Americaand#8217;s Institutional Constitution
10. Joining the Party: Americaand#8217;s Partisan Constitution
11. Doing the Right Thing: Americaand#8217;s Conscientious Constitution
12. Envisioning the Future: Americaand#8217;s Unfinished Constitution
Appendix: Americaand#8217;s Written Constitution