Constitutional law scholar Levinson (Law/Univ. of Texas; Our Undemocratic Constitution: Where the Constitution Goes Wrong (And How We the People Can Correct It), 2006, etc.) studies the many flavors and occasional flaws of the constitutions that vie to hold our allegiances.
“There is a connection between the perceived deficiencies of contemporary government and formal constitutions,” Levinson writes, noting, for instance, that few people would observe the slow disintegration of state government and its attendant services in California without referring to the “particularities of its state constitution.” The author proposes that constitutions be considered as “frames,” preambles to them as proposals for means to the ends that the constitutions promise. In that light, given that frames are supposed to be portable and movable, he suggests that both frames and constitutions can be dangerous if they do not adapt to changing times and circumstances. That view, of course, might align the author with the liberal of constitutional thought, one that might propose that in the light of latter-day mass murders on a certain nation’s streets, a little more effort to curb gun possession is in order. But Levinson resists easy categorization, defending the Electoral College here, likening the vice presidency to a duck-billed platypus there, and urging throughout that we all be attentive to “the inherent limits of language.” The author also explains why it is that we should have curbs that prevent Arnold Schwarzenegger from running for president or Bill Clinton from seeking a third term in the White House. “One simply does not understand American constitutionalism,” he writes, “if one knows only about the national Constitution.”
An illuminating look at sacred cows and sacred documents.