To Give “Good Government” to the People

Trend, Crowd of people runs in one direction

The Constitution’s aim to limit the influence of factions and passion gets the lion’s share of attention among modern readers of The Federalist. To be sure, these are critical aspirations, as much or more so today as they were in the 1780s. These aspects of the Constitution’s underlying theory, however, so dominate discussion that students often overlook another theme developed throughout The Federalist, the significance of knowledge and information in policy making, and how constitutional structure can elicit more rather than less knowledge and information.

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Progressivism, Not the Internet, Threatens Democracy

Nathaniel Persily, a professor at Stanford Law School, wonders whether democracy can survive the internet. The immediate impulse for his question is the election of Donald Trump, who used social media to get around the established institutions, principally the mainstream media, that mediate between candidates and citizens. In particular, Persily fears that fake news circulating in social media empowers demagogues, of which a prime example in his mind no doubt is Donald Trump himself.

The essay is an exemplar of progressivism, because it puts its faith in institutions dominated by progressives to safeguard democracy rather than the Constitution. But to one who is not a progressive, Persily’s fears are unwarranted and his solutions are a source of concern. Begin with fake news. It is not a phenomenon of the internet.  Political campaigns in the early republic were vicious because of outrageous and often false charges in the partisan press.  Adams was said to be a monarchist focused on establishing a dynasty with his son;  Jefferson was accused of being an atheist. He was also alleged to have sired children with one of his slaves. That last bit of dramatic  information would have been labelled as fake news at the time by the self-designated great and good—the real fact checkers of any age–, but it appears to have been true.

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The Constitution Is Written in the Language of the Law

The Constitution has launched hundreds of debates about its meaning.  But before these disputes can be settled an underlying clash of visions about the nature of its very language requires resolution.  One view holds that the Constitution is written in ordinary language and is thus fully accessible to anyone with knowledge of the English language.  The other, in contrast, is that the Constitution is written, like many other documents with legal force, in the language of the law.

The ordinary language view is often assumed both by the Supreme Court and scholars. But in a new paper Mike Rappaport and I show that the better view is that the Constitution is written in the language of law and that this has important implications for constitutional interpretation. Surprisingly, no one has ever considered how to determine whether the Constitution is written in the language of the law or in ordinary language.

We describe the factors to determine whether Constitution is written in the language of the law. The language is key and the paper for the first time catalogues all the technical terms in the original document.  We show that the number of legal terms in the Constitution is much larger than most people recognize and probably numbers about one hundred!

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America, What’s Left of It: A Conversation with Patrick Deneen

conserving americaPatrick Deneen joins this edition of Liberty Law Talk to discuss his latest book, Conserving America? Essays on Present Discontents.

Living the New Constitutional Morality

Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times

The presidential nominating contests continue to befuddle prognosticators, but the consensus winner of the Syntactical Caucus of 2016 is already in. Whether Republican or Democrat, the next President will almost certainly display an unreasoning proclivity for the first person singular.

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Progressivism Makes Immigrants Unwelcome

Last week President Obama gave a speech to newly naturalized citizens at the National Archives. His remarks show why immigration, long rightly praised as an essential part of our heritage, has become a source of ever greater controversy. The President failed to acknowledge that it is the principles of limited government and individual rights that make United States a welcoming place for immigrants because they assure that newcomers cannot tip the political balance to make life worse for those already here.

Instead, the President celebrated the raw power of democracy to make “progress,” change that can come at the expense of long time residents.The President did suggest that one of the “binding forces” for America is “loyalty” to “the documents” that surrounded the new citizens at the Archives. But he never identified these documents by name, quoted any language from them, or explained why they have an enduring claim on our loyalty. In particular, President Obama cited almost none of the liberties protected by the Constitution and nothing of the structure of federalism and separation of powers that protects those liberties.

It is hard to believe this was mere oversight. His administration has notably failed to defend both the structure and rights that are actually in the Constitution.

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An Eternal Introduction

USA Constitution Parchment

When I read the preface, I thought: What a great story awaits the reader. The authors of The Constitution: An Introduction, Michael Stokes Paulsen and Luke Paulsen, father and son, spent nine summer vacations together discussing the original Constitution and the Amendments. I wish I could have been privy to the conversations. Did the father ever say to the son, “you changed my mind on this point?” Did the son ever say to the father, “you changed my mind on that point?” After all, I think, the key to introducing America is by way of a dynamic conversation within and between the generations. Their aim is both lofty and restrained: to write an introductory book that is “rigorous, accurate, and scholarly” yet at the same time “brief and readable.” But they fall short.

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Do We Want a Redeemed Constitution?

Textured American Constitution with US Flag

My current podcast is a discussion with a most excellent scholar, Michael Paulsen, on the book he has coauthored with his son, Luke Paulsen, introducing the U. S. Constitution to the general reader. Good as the book is in many respects, it did surprise me with its embrace of the idea that the Constitution of 1787 was a pro-slavery document.

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Don’t Run Government Like a Business. Please.

Hand arrange alphabet CEO of acronym Chief Executive Officer.

The panoply of antipolitical candidates seeking the Republican nomination and gaining varyingly intense but correspondingly fleeting degrees of traction—Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson—are united in their aspiration to run government more like a business.

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Introducing the Constitution: A Conversation with Michael Paulsen

Paulsen constitution

This next edition of Liberty Law Talk is a discussion with Michael S. Paulsen, co-author with his son, Luke Paulsen, of their new book entitled The Constitution: An Introduction. The Paulsens’ book is a thoughtful and probing overview of the foundations and evolution of American constitutionalism. Our discussion focuses on key ideas in the book: What does it mean to be a country that is defined by a written constitution? Is the Founders’s Constitution a pro-slavery document? Has the use of substantive due process in Lochner, Griswold, and Roe corrupted our understanding of the Fourteenth Amendment? Of what worth is the Youngstown decision that…

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