THE COURT IS THE CONSTITUTION
THE CONSTITUTION OF 1787 AND its twenty-two amendments can be read in about half an hour. One could memorize the written document word for word, as many school children did a generation ago, and still know little or nothing of its meaning or implications. The reason is that the formal body of rules known as constitutional law consists primarily of decisions and opinions of the United States Supreme Court -- that is, the gloss or veneer the Justices have spread on the formal document itself. "The gloss, not the text, is the thing."
Yet the historian Charles Warren cautions us not to forget that, "however the Court may interpret the provisions of the Constitution, it is still the Constitution which is law and not the decisions of the Court." The Constitution itself, Justice Frankfurter declares, is the "ultimate touchstone of constitutionality." Against all such reminders stands Charles Evans Hughes's blunt assertion of 1907, "The Constitution is what the Judges say it is." "The Supreme Court," Professor Frankfurter used to tell his law students, "is the Constitution."