Why the Constitution Matters

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Overview

In this surprising and highly unconventional work, Harvard law professor Mark Tushnet poses a seemingly simple question that yields a thoroughly unexpected answer. The Constitution matters, he argues, not because it structures our government but because it structures our politics. He maintains that politicians and political parties—not Supreme Court decisions—are the true engines of constitutional change in our system. This message will empower all citizens who use direct political action to define and protect our rights and liberties as Americans.

Unlike legal scholars who consider the Constitution only as a blueprint for American democracy, Tushnet focuses on the ways it serves as a framework for political debate. Each branch of government draws substantive inspiration and procedural structure from the Constitution but can effect change only when there is the political will to carry it out. Tushnet’s political understanding of the Constitution therefore does not demand that citizens pore over the specifics of each Supreme Court decision in order to improve our nation. Instead, by providing key facts about Congress, the president, and the nature of the current constitutional regime, his book reveals not only why the Constitution matters to each of us but also, and perhaps more important, how it matters.

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Editorial Reviews

The Green Bag

"The book is an enjoyable read, written in conversational style and filled with interesting snippets of legal history, constitutional history, and political science. . . By publishing a concise and accessible book on this subject, he may succeed in communicating with those outside the small tribe of law professors and political scientists who have been having this conversation among themselves."—Amanda Frost, The Green Bag

— Amanda Frost

CHOICE

"The book is a very interesting read and would be an excellent supplement in an undergraduate constitutional law class."—T. M. Jackson, CHOICE

— T. M. Jackson

Jack M. Balkin

“An outstanding introduction to the many ways that the Constitution shapes American politics, and politics shapes American constitutional law.”—Jack M. Balkin, Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment, Yale Law School

Sanford Levinson

“Mark Tushnet has written a profoundly important and illuminating book in a wonderfully conversational style. Its emphasis on the importance of structures--and, especially, political parties—is an important corrective to the common reduction of the Constitution to a system of ‘fundamental rights.’ It deserves to be read by scholars, students, and citizens alike who wish to learn what difference it might truly make that we conduct our politics under the aegis of the Constitution.”—Sanford Levinson, author of Our Undemocratic Constitution: Where the Constitution Goes Wrong (and How We the People Can Correct It)
Louis Michael Seidman

"Mark Tushnet is the leading constitutional scholar of his generation. In this book, he addresses constitutional law’s central questions: How and why does the Constitution matter? His answers – both persuasive and deeply disturbing – will surprise virtually all of his readers."—Louis Michael Seidman, Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Constitutional Law, Georgetown University Law Center

Adrian Vermeule

“Mark Tushnet has squared the circle by writing a book that is both accessible and highly sophisticated. It offers an engaging précis of Tushnet's own thought, and also of a large body of recent work at the intersection of legal theory and political science. Yet it refuses to oversimplify and itself makes fresh theoretical contributions. An admirable achievement that should improve public discourse about the role of the Constitution.”—Adrian Vermeule, Harvard Law School

Mark Grabar

“Mark Tushnet has issued another bold challenge to constitutional orthodoxy in the United States. His incisive examination of how the Constitution of the United States does more to structure politics than dictate specific outcomes will fascinate lawyers, political scientists and citizens.”—Mark Grabar, Professor of Law and Government, University of Maryland

The Green Bag - Amanda Frost

"The book is an enjoyable read, written in conversational style and filled with interesting snippets of legal history, constitutional history, and political science. . . By publishing a concise and accessible book on this subject, he may succeed in communicating with those outside the small tribe of law professors and political scientists who have been having this conversation among themselves."—Amanda Frost, The Green Bag
CHOICE - T. M. Jackson

"The book is a very interesting read and would be an excellent supplement in an undergraduate constitutional law class."—T. M. Jackson, CHOICE
Library Journal
Instead of the usual examination of how the Constitution is the blueprint for American democracy, Tushnet (William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law, Harvard Univ.; A Court Divided) discusses how the structure of the Constitution has influenced our politics. He first notes that the Constitution's role as the foundation of our democracy is not its most important one. For instance, with the current debate over health-care reform, he points out the many extra-constitutional factors affecting legislation. The American political system, Tushnet notes, is largely controlled at the state level, where election rules are set and fund-raising takes place, activities that are not spelled out in the Constitution. Tushnet next turns to the Supreme Court's effect on the Constitution, indicating again that politics, such as that involved in judicial selection and the deciding of cases, has more impact on the Court than the outlines of the Constitution itself. He also points out here that Supreme Court justices, as life appointees, are less affected by politics than are members of Congress. The third chapter is very brief, summarizing the points of the book and suggesting ways that the Constitution can matter more. VERDICT Although Tushnet's premise is interesting, his book can be hard to follow because of the number of points he attempts to discuss briefly. Each of his topics needs to be covered more fully to be clear. While his book may be useful to prelaw and law students, it is not recommended for others.—Becky Kennedy, Atlanta-Fulton P.L., GA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300150360
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2010
  • Series: Why X Matters Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author


Mark Tushnet is William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Harvard University.
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