A sharp, efficient guide to the creation, content, and construction of the supreme law of the land.
Michael Stokes Paulsen (Law/Univ. of St. Thomas), author of casebooks and numerous articles, brings the legal chops, and son Luke, a Princeton graduate, contributes the sidebars. These thumbnail sketches of important constitutional players and capsule commentaries on important cases add color to the main text. Both authors are committed to jargon-free, comprehensible prose. They begin by setting out the document’s framework and comment incisively on the novel concept of a written constitution deriving its authority from the people, ensuring checks and balances by separating power among the federal branches, while at the same time preserving state prerogatives. They move on to a careful, Article-by-Article explication of the respective powers of the federal government’s three branches and a detailed treatment of the Bill of Rights, “practically a second Constitution.” For the most part, the Paulsens praise the framers’ handiwork, even as they acknowledge the morally deficient protections for slavery contained in various Constitutional provisions. They devote the bulk of their narrative to a compressed, evenhanded history of the Constitution’s interpretation and the ongoing struggle to wrestle meaning from the words at the heart of our democracy. No important case goes unmentioned, no significant crisis or controversy unexplored. Some readers will quarrel with the authors’ insistence on the immutability of the Constitution’s words or perhaps with their commentary on particular cases, especially Roe v. Wade, Marbury v. Madison, and United States v. Nixon. Many will be surprised at their insistence that constitutional interpretation is not solely the province of the courts. All will appreciate the modesty and clarity they bring to this hugely complex subject. The Paulsens urge readers on to further reading and study, but they accomplish precisely what they set out to do.
A well-conceived, well-executed primer, ideal for a bright high schooler, a college student, or even the odd professor who requires a brush up on the Constitution.