AMENDING AMERICA by Richard B. Bernstein


If We Love the Constitution So Much, Why Do We Keep Trying to Change It?
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 In a thoughtful history of the Amendments to the Constitution, Bernstein (New York Law School) and Agel (coauthor with Bernstein of the YA title The Congress, 1987, etc.) point out that America is unique among nations with written constitutions in that its Constitution is central to the country's national identity. They also ask though fail to answer the question: ``Are we truly aware of the consequences of `amending America'?'' The authors focus on Article V, which sets forth the formal procedure for amendment. They seem aware of, but fail to discuss in depth, the equally transformative effect upon the Constitution of political events and judicial decisions, notably the jurisprudence of the post-New Deal era, which has established new civil liberties and given Congress broad-ranging power to regulate the nation's economic life. Bernstein and Agel recount the efforts to find a practical and flexible alternative to the amendment procedure of the Articles of Confederation (which, requiring unanimity, was unworkable); James Madison's victorious 1789 struggle to ratify the Bill of Rights; the early constitutional crises that resulted in the Eleventh and Twelfth Amendments, prohibiting federal suits against states and revising the procedure for electing the President; the important Civil War-era Amendments; and the progressive political movements that led to the early ``democratizing'' Amendments (among them, those dictating the popular election of US senators, enabling passage of the income tax, and giving suffrage to women). The authors' historical survey demonstrates that, while resolution of purely political questions through the Constitution (as in the Eighteenth Amendment's enacting Prohibition) has been unsuccessful, the Constitution owes its vitality to its ability to respond to the rapidly changing nature of American society. An excellent delineation of issues debated by modern constitutional scholars--though the authors' unwillingness to attempt to resolve these issues can be frustrating.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-8129-2038-4
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Times/Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1993