In this sequel to America's Constitution: A Biography, Amar takes readers on a tour of our nation's unwritten Constitution, showing how America'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 Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" 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 America's preeminent legal scholars, America's Unwritten Constitution presents a bold new vision of the American constitutional system, showing how the complementary relationship between the Constitution's written and unwritten components is one of America's greatest and most enduring strengths.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-07-02
- Reviewer: Staff
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.)