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McConnell At HLS: What Would Hamilton Do? (video)

Publication Date: 
March 07, 2011
Harvard Law School
Alexander Heffner

Professor Michael McConnell spoke at Harvard Law School and responded to the question "What would Hamilton do?" The lecture is covered in the following article by Alexander Heffner of Harvard Law School News:

Giving the biennial Vaughan Lecture at Harvard Law School, former federal appeals court judge Michael McConnell contemplated the question "What would Hamilton do?"

McConnell, a distinguished scholar who held numerous academic posts before serving as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit until 2010, is a former visiting professor at Harvard Law School. He is now on the faculty at Stanford Law School, where he is director of the Stanford Constitutional Law Center.

In her introductory remarks before the lecture, Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow said of McConnell: "His landmark articles—meticulous reconstruction of the original understanding of the 14th Amendment, imaginative and powerful explorations of religious freedom and establishment, thoughtful treatments of judicial reasoning and humility, his attention to the discriminatory effect of case law—showed the courts how to recast treatment of religion in schools and government programs."


In his lecture, McConnell observed that neither political party wishes to take ownership of Hamilton’s legacy today; Democrats routinely honor Jefferson and Jackson, and the Federalist Society favors Madison.


In the context of the current health care litigation, McConnell said, Madison, Jefferson, and Randolph would likely take an even narrower view of the Necessary and Proper clause of the Constitution than do the opponents of the health care bill, and that Hamilton would take a less constrained view of how to define federal power than is held by even the proponents of the Obama healthcare legislation.

“Hamilton took a very broad view of the means the federal government can exercise in service of its enumerated ends. But Hamilton did not take a particularly expansive view of what ends have been entrusted with the federal government.”


“To dabble in mundane matters of domestic policy would be distracting and beneath [the national government],” Hamilton wrote.

“That might possibly be good advice,” McConnell concluded.