Constitutional Construction: Divided Powers and Constitutional Meaning

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Overview

This book argues that the Constitution has a dual nature. The first aspect, on which legal scholars have focused, is the degree to which the Constitution acts as a binding set of rules that can be neutrally interpreted and externally enforced by the courts against government actors. This is the process of constitutional interpretation. But according to Keith Whittington, the Constitution also permeates politics itself, to guide and constrain political actors in the very process of making public policy. In so doing, it is also dependent on political actors, both to formulate authoritative constitutional requirements and to enforce those fundamental settlements in the future. Whittington characterizes this process, by which constitutional meaning is shaped within politics at the same time that politics is shaped by the Constitution, as one of construction as opposed to interpretation.

Whittington goes on to argue that ambiguities in the constitutional text and changes in the political situation push political actors to construct their own constitutional understanding. The construction of constitutional meaning is a necessary part of the political process and a regular part of our nation's history, how a democracy lives with a written constitution. The Constitution both binds and empowers government officials. Whittington develops his argument through intensive analysis of four important cases: the impeachments of Justice Samuel Chase and President Andrew Johnson, the nullification crisis, and reforms of presidential-congressional relations during the Nixon presidency.

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Editorial Reviews

Craig R. Ducat
Whittington's book demonstrates-as if a demonstration was necessary- that political science profits handsomely from history. Political science without history usually isn't very good political science. And history without political science often amounts to little more than storytelling. The quality of this book's history is every bit as good as the quality of its political science. However, sometimes-in the first chapter, particularly-I think eloquence gets in the way of understanding. The chapter-length case studies and the fine concluding chapter do much to burn off some of the initial fog. To say that this volume produces a model of constitutional construction is perhaps to convey an expectation of too much precision. There are qualifications aplenty and not a little ambiguity. Whittington gives us a model of constitutional construction in the sense, I suppose, that Richard Neustadt gave us a model of presidential power, although Whittington provides a lot more support.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674165410
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 7/15/1999
  • Pages: 303
  • Product dimensions: 6.45 (w) x 9.57 (h) x 1.09 (d)

Meet the Author

Keith E. Whittington is Assistant Professor of Politics at Princeton University.

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Table of Contents

Preface
1 The Political Constitution 1
2 The Chase Impeachment and Shaping the Federal Judiciary 20
3 The Nullification Crisis and the Limits of National Power 72
4 Andrew Johnson and Executive Construction 113
5 Richard Nixon and the Leadership of the Modern State 158
6 Building the American Constitution 207
Notes 231
Index 297
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