News Center

Elsewhere Online twitter Facebook SLS Blogs YouTube SLS Channel Linked In SLSNavigator SLS on Flickr

Tea Party: It's Not Just Taxes, It's The Constitution

Publication Date: 
July 14, 2010
Mara Liasson

Stanford Law School Dean Larry Kramer, who wrote The People Themselves: Popular Constitutionalism and Judicial Review, talked to NPR's Mara Liasson about the "Tea Party" and popular movements in constitutionalism:

On a sweltering night in Manassas, the Virginia Tea Party Patriots are holding a rally.

"The theme tonight is defending the Constitution — we are revisiting what were the fundamental principles that made this nation great, that makes Virginia great," an organizer tells the crowd.

The Tea Parties started as an anti-big government, anti-tax movement — T-E-A stands for "Taxed enough already?" But Tea Partiers have another pressing concern — an obsession, really — the United States Constitution.


That's because what the public believes the Constitution means matters — and sometimes it can influence how the Constitution is interpreted by the Supreme Court, says Larry Kramer, the dean of Stanford Law School and the author of a book about popular constitutionalism.

"It would be rather peculiar to say that, in a democratic society, it's too important for ordinary people to have any say in what it means or how it applies," he says. "So you always want engaged public debate over the meaning of the Constitution in order to keep it contemporary and in line with where the country is."

Today, Kramer says, the Tea Party is giving a big grass-roots boost to the elite conservative legal movement, whose views of the Constitution are already well-represented on the Supreme Court.

"Right now, four and probably five of the justices are much more sympathetic to the Tea Party view of the Constitution than they are to the Obama administration view," he says.