America's Unwritten Constitution

America's Unwritten Constitution

The Precedents and Principles We Live by

Book - 2012
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Baker & Taylor
Explores the little-understood relationship between the written Constitution and the many external factors that shape the interpretations of this foundational document.

Perseus Publishing
Despite its venerated place atop American law and politics, our written Constitution does not enumerate all of the rules and rights, principles and procedures that actually govern modern America. The document makes no explicit mention of cherished concepts like the separation of powers and the rule of law. On some issues, the plain meaning of the text misleads. For example, the text seems to say that the vice president presides over his own impeachment trial—but surely this cannot be right. As esteemed legal scholar Akhil Reed Amar explains in America's Unwritten Constitution, the solution to many constitutional puzzles lies not solely within the written document, but beyond it—in the vast trove of values, precedents, and practices that complement and complete the terse text.

In this sequel to America's Constitution: A Biography, Amar takes readers on a tour of our nation's unwritten Constitution, showing how America's foundational document cannot be understood in textual isolation. Proper constitutional interpretation depends on a variety of factors, such as the precedents set by early presidents and Congresses; common practices of modern American citizens; venerable judicial decisions; and particularly privileged sources of inspiration and guidance, including the Federalist papers, William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s “I Have a Dream” speech. These diverse supplements are indispensible instruments for making sense of the written Constitution. When used correctly, these extra-textual aids support and enrich the written document without supplanting it.

An authoritative work by one of America's preeminent legal scholars, America's Unwritten Constitution presents a bold new vision of the American constitutional system, showing how the complementary relationship between the Constitution's written and unwritten components is one of America's greatest and most enduring strengths.

Book News
As author and legal scholar Amar (law and political science, Yale U.) points out in his introduction, the 8,000 words of "terse text" in the U.S. Constitution created essentially a framework, a beginning--and certainly not a comprehensive document intended to accommodate the intricacies and changes occurring in an ever-evolving country. As familiar as phrases like "separation of powers," "checks and balances," and "rule of law" may be, they are not included in the Constitution. Amar provides a scholarly and in-depth exploration of what the 'unwritten Constitution' is and how to understand it. Annotation ©2012 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

& Taylor

A renowned constitutional scholar explores the little-understood relationship between the written Constitution and the many external factors that shape our interpretations of this foundational document.

Publisher: New York : Basic Books, c2012
ISBN: 9780465029570
Branch Call Number: 342.73029 Am135a 2012
Characteristics: xvi, 615 p. : ill. ; 25 cm


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