For decades, constitutional theory has primarily focused on the judicial interpretation of rules. The Court alone would deliberate on constitutional values, and would then translate those values into judicially enforceable rules that elected officials were to follow. Within the boundaries of those constitutional rules, the unprincipled struggle of interests could reign. Such a model of the Constitution as a set of externally enforced rules is both normatively and empirically problematic. The judicial perspective on the Constitution is only a partial perspective, and it must be supplemented with an understanding of the constitutional practices of the other branches of government. In particular, the recent presidential impeachment raised a number of constitutional issues that cannot be adequately resolved within a model of the Constitution as external rules, including problems of constitutional fidelity, propriety, and discretion. Theories of judicial interpretation of the Constitution need to be supplemented with a theory of constitutional ethics.
This essay introduces the two "new institutionalist" approaches to the study of law and the courts and examines some tensions between them and their combined value for enhancing our understanding of the legal matters. Behavioralism and its immediate legacies have dominated the study of the law and the courts in political science for the past four decades, and its lessons remain the starting point for any empirical examination of public law in the discipline. In different ways, the two new institutionalisms both react against this behavioralist legacy and points toward the importance of rules, norms and social practices in shaping individual behavior. The article pursues critical examination of the tensions between them and their respective limitations, as well as their potential contributions to the empirical study of the courts. The article also considers the implications of the new institutionalism for thinking about the law. Although an institutionalist perspective is useful for advancing our understanding of judicial decision-making, the real promise of this approach may be its ability to push political scientists beyond such questions. Just as behavioralism brought new subjects and questions to the field as well as new methods and assumptions, so the new institutionalism will come into its own if it succeeds in changing the research agenda and directing political scientists to look beyond the voting behavior of justices.
In his political history of the Warren Court, Lucas Powe integrates doctrinal analysis with an awareness of political context. Examining the Court as a political institution emphasizes that the Warren Court was not uniquely political. The Supreme Court must always operate within a political environment. Its decisions have political consequences, and broader political and social currents shape the justices' thinking about constitutional issues. Reconsidering the politics of the Warren Court is particularly useful, however, because of the need to explain how a politically responsive Court may also be an activist Court and how the Warren Court's aggressive use of the power of judicial review served the interests and beliefs of national political majorities.
It is not clear that those who self-identify with APD still share a common conversation or even share an understanding of the meaning of the field. Rather than overcoming the divisions within the discipline, APD seems to have internalized them. Although part of the problem is undoubtedly caused by the persistence of the methodological dynamics that Almond observed, part of the problem may be the exhaustion of the original APD project itself. APD has often been sold to the rest of the discipline as "politics and history," but it may be time to emphasize that "history" is of secondary concern. APD seems uniquely concerned with how political events build on one another and not simply with how they change. More generally, APD can continue to make a useful contribution in demonstrating the ways in which the present is affected by the past, and how current decisions might affect the future. Similarly, APD, and interpretive methodologies, seems particularly sensitive to how political structures are layered on to one another. Notably, these lines of inquiry imply a deeply historical sensibility, but not necessarily a historical subject matter.
In the latest volume of Bruce Ackerman's We the People, he sets out to demonstrate that the Constitution has been legitimately amended by "unconventional" means, or by mechanisms other than the Article V amendment process. In making this argument, Ackerman offers a rich constitutional history of the Founding period, the Reconstruction era, and the New Deal. He successfully demonstrates that unconventional methods were used to alter accepted constitutional meaning and government practices during these periods. Unfortunately, Ackerman does not provide an adequate theory that can demonstrate the legal significance of these historical events for future constitutional practice. Moreover, his effort to legitimate the New Deal's constitutional revolution undermines his own normative theory of "dualist democracy" and seems to embrace a standard Legal Realist analysis that the Constitution simply is whatever powerful government officials declare it to mean.
This book reconsiders the implications of the fundamental legal commitment to faithfully interpret our written Constitution. Making use of arguments drawn from American history, political philosophy, and literary theory, the book examines what it means to interpret a written constitution and how the courts should go about that task. The book concludes that when interpreting the Constitution, the judiciary should adhere to the discoverable intentions of the Founders. In pursuing this argument, the book sympathetically examines the most sophisticated critiques of originalism based on postmodern, hermeneutic, and literary theory, as well as the most common legal arguments against originalists. The book demonstrates how originalist methods can be reconciled with an appropriate understanding of legal interpretation and why originalism has much to teach all constitutional theorists. The book also shows how originalism helps realize the democratic promise of the Constitution without relying on assumptions of judicial restraint. Carefully examining both the possibilities and the limitations of constitutional interpretation and judicial review, the book shows not only what the judiciary ought to do but also what the limits of appropriate judicial review are and how judicial review fits into a larger system of constitutional government.
The book argues that the Constitution has a dual nature. The first aspect, on which legal scholars have focused, is the degree to which the Constitution acts as a binding set of rules that can be neutrally interpreted and externally enforced by the courts against government actors. This is the process of constitutional interpretation. But the Constitution also permeates politics itself, to guide and constrain political actors in the very process of making public policy. In so doing, it is also dependent on political actors, both to formulate authoritative constitutional requirements and to enforce those fundamental settlements in the future. This process by which constitutional meaning is shaped within politics at the same time that politics is shaped by the Constitution is one of construction. The argument is developed through intensive analysis of four important cases: the impeachments of Justice Samuel Chase and President Andrew Johnson, the nullification crisis, and reforms of presidential-congressional relations during the Nixon presidency.
Ranking of graduate political science programs for doctoral study in public law based on a 1998 survey of a sample of members of the Law and Courts section of the American Political Science Association.
Recent events suggest that in an important sense, whether the president is guilty of committing impeachable offenses is not the primary issue in an impeachment inquiry. The commission of an impeachable offense is only the necessary precondition for an impeachment, but it is certainly not a sufficient condition. Impeachments are prospective in their purpose even if they are retrospective in their need to establish guilt in some specifiable offense. Impeachments are the grand interpretive events of American politics. In them, Congress interprets the nature of our constitutional order and reconstructs that order in a more pristine form. In the present context, that requires more than showing what the president did and laying it beside a list of "impeachable offenses." It requires explaining what Clinton's actions have meant and what an impeachment would mean for our system of government. In this crucial political task, Congress failed.
Federalism, as a constitutional concept underlying the appropriate distribution of powers among levels of government, has responded in understandable ways to long-term trends in economics, political organization, and political values. Those factors have favored increasing centralization through most of the twentieth century, which is reflected in both judicial doctrine and governmental practice. However, changing conceptions of the political economy and the political regime have created a new structual dynamic that favors a less centralized version of federalism. The article examines the structural foundations of the movement toward centralization and the modern countertrends to that movement which have fostered a move toward decentralization. Such developments indicate that federalism not meaningless as a constitutional concept. Neither, however, is it static nor a function of legal doctrine. Federalism is instead a fluid concept operating within broad limits and is responsive to larger political and social changes.
The conception of social capital has revitalized the study of civil society. Alexis de Tocqueville's examination of 19th-century America is a major source of inspiration for much of this work. Tocqueville's analysis has been used to help support the idea that a strong civil society is crucial to democratic success. A reconsideration of Tocqueville's analysis, and, more important, of his American case, however, suggests that an active civil society is not an unalloyed good for democratic politics. A strong society can be not only a support but also a threat to democracy and liberal democratic ideals. One's evaluation of the health of democratic politics must depend on a study of the effects of political institutions and constitutional structures, as well as of civil society.
The Starr investigation of President Clinton raised a basic constitutional issue affecting the separation of powers, whether and when a president must obey a subpoena to testify in judicial proceedings. Presidents might reasonably claim a constitutional immunity from being compelled to present themselves before a judge. The congressional impeachment power is ultimately the best mechanism for evaluating the appropriateness of such a presidential claim and for enforcing compliance with a subpoena when presidential grounds for ignoring judicial orders are deemed inadequate. The president should be most concerned with adhering to an appropriate vision of constitutional ethics, not with providing minimal compliance with legal technicalities.
The concept of the "rhetoric presidency" has become an important device for drawing a qualitative distinction between nineteenth-century and twentieth-century behavior. The twentieth-century version of the rhetorical presidency drew heavily from the contemporary example of the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Some have suggested that Bill Clinton has altered the form of the rhetorical presidency to avoid many of its difficulties. But Clinton's particular deviations from the Reagan model have done less to transform the rhetorical presidency as previously understood than to bring it to fruition. Analysis of the rhetorical presidency is too often divorced from the broader institutional and political context of the office, with particular implications for understanding the Clinton presidency. The paper reexamines the rhetorical presidency and its link to the rise of the "modern presidency," and finds that the early Clinton administration underscores many of the original concerns of the rhetorical presidency literature.
The requirements of the U.S. Constitution are often assumed to be either clear or defined by the judiciary through interpretation, or both. Examination of the nullification crisis of 1833 indicates that this view of the Constitution is misleading. The nullification crisis provoked three competing visions of the appropriate understanding of federalism in the context of textual ambiguity and judicial activity. The subsequent development of federalism was determined by that political conflict and compromise. The nullification controversy provides an important example of the openness of constitutional norms, the significance of political debate in the shaping of constitutional meaning, and the complexity of antebellum political thought.
The 1804 congressional impeachment of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase is both a critical moment in the development of American political institutions and mores and an important case exposing how the Constitution actually operates as a governing institution. The impeachment has traditionally been portrayed in absolutist, personal, and essentially legalistic terms, emphasizing the victory of separation of powers with the acquittal of Chase. A more specifically political analysis of the constitutional issues at stake, however, reveals a more complex set of alternatives and a more subtle outcome. The Senate trial did not result in a clear vindication of Chase's position, but rather established a particular vision of the role of an unelected judiciary in a republican form of government. This vision emphasized the qualified independence of the judiciary from popular control, a relatively adversarial and open courtroom, and the removal of judges from normal, partisan political disputes.