Constitutional Construction: Divided Powers and Constitutional Meaning

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9780674165410: Constitutional Construction: Divided Powers and Constitutional Meaning
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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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About the Author:

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

Review:

Mr. Whittington sees the Constitution not as an immutable legal document but as something more fluid and more mysterious, a powerful and authoritative force which constantly influences political outcomes while itself being subject to politics. Battles over constitutional construction are of course political battles...[and] Mr. Whittington has interesting things to say about the way these conflicts play out. (Peter A. Jay Washington Times)

Constitutional Construction offers renewed vigor to a tired field and should provoke some fresh thinking by constitutional scholars. (Jeremy Rabkin Weekly Standard)

This book is an important addition to modern constitutional theory. Whittington brings to life an old but not well understood idea--that constitutional development is the product of judicial interpretation and binding rules and of political practice. (J. B. Grossman Choice)

Constitutional Construction is a fine example of institutional analysis...displays a fine feel for political nuance and sensitivity to institutional subtlety...shows that is possible to do exceptional political analysis without it becoming legalistic scholarship...[and is] exceptionally well written...Whittington's book demonstrates that political science profits handsomely from history. Political science without history 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. (Craig Ducat Law and Politics Book Review)

This is a superb, pathbreaking book that demonstrates the dual nature of constitutional change. Through a subtle analysis of congressional-presidential politics, Whittington convincingly argues that the process by which constitutional meaning is defined is not solely the purview of the Supreme Court and lesser courts. He shows that the Constitution gains meaning as a result of the politics of construction engaged in by political actors seeking political and policy objectives...[Constitutional Construction] is must reading for a wide range of scholars of American institutions and political development, law and courts, history, and American political thought. (Ronald Kahn American Political Science Review)

A major theoretical contribution to the perennial debate on the...fundamental, recurrent questions in American constitutional law. (James E. Bond Humane Studies Review)

Whittington's book is among the most important recently published about constitutional theory and history. (Mark Tushnet Journal of Interdisciplinary History)

Constitutional Construction provides a needed corrective to the works of constitutional theorists who focus solely on jurisprudential issues...Whittington concludes that scholars need to look beyond the courts and recognize the multifaceted nature of the Constitution. (Michael Ross Journal of Southern History)

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9780674005839: Constitutional Construction: Divided Powers and Constitutional Meaning

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ISBN 10:  067400583X ISBN 13:  9780674005839
Publisher: Harvard University Press, 2001
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