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Interdisciplnary Summer Workshop for Junior Faculty


July 8, 2012 8:00am - July 14, 2012 5:00pm

Assessing the US Constitution: Twenty-First-Century Responses to Eighteenth -Century Assumptions

Sponsored by the Institute for Constitutional History with the Stanford Constitutional Law Center

It is an obvious truth that the drafters of the 1787 Constitution had a number of basic assumptions about the workings of what they called a “Republican Form of Government” and that the institutions established in Philadelphia reflected these assumptions. To be sure, some of them, such as equal voting power in the Senate or the basis of representation in the House (i.e., the 3/5 rule), were the result of compromises, in which the losers (like James Madison with regard to the Senate) viewed the result as a “lesser evil” (to the greater evil of no Constitution at all) rather than a positive good. Still, almost all of the institutions were defended by proponents of the Constitution, the most prominent, of course, being the collective Publius. To a remarkable degree, America in 2012 continues to be governed through the structures established in 1787. The purpose of the seminar is quite simple: To look at the justifications offered, particularly at the Philadelphia Convention and ensuing ratification debates (including, of course, The Federalist) and to assess the degree to which we find them persuasive over two centuries later. The seminar is not about “constitutional interpretation” as that topic is usually defined. That is, we will not be looking at the parts of the Constitution that have been significantly litigated and, therefore, “interpreted,” over the years, such as the assignment of powers to Congress in Article One, Section Eight. Rather, we will be looking at examples of what in my forthcoming book I call “the Constitution of Settlement” (in contrast to the endlessly-litigated “Constitution of Conversation”)—bicameralism, the particular organization of power in the Senate, the presidential veto ,and the process of constitutional amendment, among others. Readings will be taken from Professor Levinson’s book, Framed: America’s 51 Constitutions and the Crisis of Governance (Oxford University Press, 2012); The Federalist; The Founders’ Constitution; Akhil Reed Amar, America’s Constitution: A Biography; and John Dinan, The American State Constitutional Tradition.