Putting the Law Back in Constitutional Law
Sherry, Suzanna, Constitutional Commentary
Taking a cue from Professor Laurence Tribe's decision to abandon the third edition of his constitutional law treatise, (1) the organizers of this symposium have asked us to address whether constitutional law is in crisis. I am agnostic on that question, although I think that there has been a turn in the wrong direction. But if there is a crisis, I know who to blame.
If constitutional law is in crisis, it is our fault. The legal academy has erased the distinction between law and politics, used its expertise for political advantage rather than for elucidation, and mis-educated a generation of lawyers. We thus should not be surprised if judges have, as Professor Ristroph suggests, lost their faith in the Constitution. We have led them into the wilderness.
Law, especially constitutional law, and especially the hard cases that reach the Supreme Court, is neither fully determinate nor fully indeterminate. Legal decision making (including constitutional decision making) is, as I have argued elsewhere, constrained by precedent, by reason, institutional structure and context, and by professional norms. (2) Those constraints are not perfect, nor do they eliminate discretion and disagreement. But to the extent that they remain influential, the constraints curb judicial excesses and ensure that constitutional doctrine remains, by and large, governed by the rule of law rather than by the whims of judges.
The first problem is that many legal academics have stopped believing in the efficacy of those restraints, and consequently see little distinction between politics and law. Following the lead of "attitudinalist" political scientists, hordes of law professors now proclaim that constitutional law is nothing but politics, and judges are merely legislators in black robes. (3) (Ironically, political science scholarship is …
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Publication information: Article title: Putting the Law Back in Constitutional Law. Contributors: Sherry, Suzanna - Author. Journal title: Constitutional Commentary. Volume: 25. Issue: 3 Publication date: Summer 2009. Page number: 461+. © 1998 Constitutional Commentary, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2009 Gale Group.
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