Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

How to Bring Back the Constitution

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

How to Bring Back the Constitution

Article excerpt

THE SOURCE: "Restoring the Constitution" by James W. Ceaser, in The Claremont Review of Books, spring 2012.

Can a return to constitutional principles help address the immense economic and political challenges to governance of the United States? Many Americans, especially conservatives, think so. Responding to Tea Party activists, for example, the House of Representatives kicked off the 112th Congress with members solemnly reading the entire Constitution aloud. Political scientist James W. Ceaser of the University of Virginia, however, cautions that not all roads back to the Constitution are the same.

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There are two kinds of constitutionalism, he says. Legal constitutionalism is mostly the domain of judges and legal experts, who interpret the Constitution's application in specific cases. Political constitutionalism is the work of politicians and citizens. In this approach, the Constitution "fixes certain ends of government activity, delineates a structure and arrangement of powers," and leaves it to "political actors making political decisions to protect and promote constitutional goals." Until the 1960s, the two forms of constitutionalism were roughly in balance, but today most Americans, including many conservatives, take it for granted that constitutional interpretation is the sole province of the courts. That's a mistake, Ceaser argues.

Consider the court challenges to President Barack Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (which had not been decided when Ceaser wrote). …

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