Academic journal article The Cato Journal

The Law of the Land: A Grand Tour of Our Constitutional Republic

Academic journal article The Cato Journal

The Law of the Land: A Grand Tour of Our Constitutional Republic

Article excerpt

The Law of the Land: A Grand Tour of Our Constitutional Republic

Akhil Reed Amar

New York: Basic Books, 2015, 376 pp.

Akhil Reed Amar's The Laic of The Land: A Grand Tour of Our Constitutional Republic seeks to take the reader on a "grand tour" of the various regions of the American Republic and define their contribution to constitutionalism in general. The object was to explicate the "differance," as Derrida might say, between Amar's identified 12 distinct cultural regions and to tie that uniqueness into the present tapestry of our constitutional fabric.

This book is a bit of a mixture. On the one hand, it does a fine job exploring constitutional history of various clauses (such as the Second Amendment qua Wisconsin constitutionalism) and individuals (for example, Justice Robert Jackson). Yet, on the other, it doesn't really provide a regionalized "tour" of the constitutional republic. Instead, it attempts to shoehorn a book on significant moments and aspects of constitutional history into a book on regional constitutionalism.

The author somewhat readily admits this flaw in the conclusion, giving a mea culpa for focusing on 12 constitutional instances rather than performing a 50-state survey. But the flaw is a bit deeper. Consider the chapter on Justice Hugo Black.

Amar's premise is that certain constitutional figures or moments are emblematic of a region's contribution to our constitutional fabric. But his discussion of Hugo Back is almost entirely divorced from Alabama and the larger region of the Deep South. Aside from some references to Justice Black's being from Alabama and ruling on cases that came out of Alabama, there is nothing to tie the Deep South to Justice Black's legacy of textual originalism and total incorporation of the Bill of Rights to the states. Indeed, the chapter--while a fascinating discussion of Justice Black's legacy--does not illustrate anything in particular about Deep South constitutionalism.

Amar's discussion of Kansas's contribution to American constitutionalism through the lens of Brown v. Board of Education suffers from the same flaw. While Amar stresses the town of "Topeka" several times in the chapter, he does not at any point describe how Topeka is unique in its contribution to the legacy of American apartheid--and Amar readily admits that segregation is not unique to Kansas or even the Outer Southern Region (how Amar describes the belt around the Deep South that contains Kansas). "Topeka" serves as more of a talismanic incantation than a fixed point in analyzing regional constitutionalism. Thus, the reader is left thinking little about Kansas or the Outer South as a unique region. The most unique part of the chapter is when Amar gives his personal justification of Brown as an originalist case based on some interpretative gymnastics around the Titles of Nobility Clause. …

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