Why the Constitution Matters


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Mark Tushnet

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A major legal scholar presents an empowering reassessment of our nation’s most essential document

In this surprising and highly unconventional work, Harvard law professor Mark Tushnet poses a seemingly simple question that yields a thoroughly unexpected answer. The Constitution matters, he argues, not because it structures our government but because it structures our politics. He maintains that politicians and political parties—not Supreme Court decisions—are the true engines of constitutional change in our system. This message will empower all citizens who use direct political action to define and protect our rights and liberties as Americans.

Unlike legal scholars who consider the Constitution only as a blueprint for American democracy, Tushnet focuses on the ways it serves as a framework for political debate. Each branch of government draws substantive inspiration and procedural structure from the Constitution but can effect change only when there is the political will to carry it out. Tushnet’s political understanding of the Constitution therefore does not demand that citizens pore over the specifics of each Supreme Court decision in order to improve our nation. Instead, by providing key facts about Congress, the president, and the nature of the current constitutional regime, his book reveals not only why the Constitution matters to each of us but also, and perhaps more important, how it matters.

Mark Tushnet is William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Harvard University.

“An outstanding introduction to the many ways that the Constitution shapes American politics, and politics shapes American constitutional law.”—Jack M. Balkin, Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment, Yale Law School

“Mark Tushnet has written a profoundly important and illuminating book in a wonderfully conversational style.  Its emphasis on the importance of structures--and, especially, political parties—is an important corrective to the common reduction of the Constitution to a system of ‘fundamental rights.’  It deserves to be read by scholars, students, and citizens alike who wish to learn what difference it might truly make that we conduct our politics under the aegis of the Constitution.”—Sanford Levinson, author of Our Undemocratic Constitution:  Where the Constitution Goes Wrong (and How We the People Can Correct It)

"Mark Tushnet is the leading constitutional scholar of his generation.  In this book, he addresses constitutional law’s central questions:  How and why does the Constitution matter? His answers – both persuasive and deeply disturbing – will surprise virtually all of his readers."—Louis Michael Seidman, Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Constitutional Law, Georgetown University Law Center

“Mark Tushnet has squared the circle by writing a book that is both accessible and highly sophisticated.  It offers an engaging précis of Tushnet's own thought, and also of a large body of recent work at the intersection of legal theory and political science.  Yet it refuses to oversimplify and itself makes fresh theoretical contributions.  An admirable achievement that should improve public discourse about the role of the Constitution.”—Adrian Vermeule, Harvard Law School

“Mark Tushnet has issued another bold challenge to constitutional orthodoxy in the United States.  His incisive examination of how the Constitution of the United States does more to structure politics than dictate specific outcomes will fascinate lawyers, political scientists and citizens.”—Mark Grabar, Professor of Law and Government, University of Maryland

"The book is an enjoyable read, written in conversational style and filled with interesting snippets of legal history, constitutional history, and political science. . . By publishing a concise and accessible book on this subject, he may succeed in communicating with those outside the small tribe of law professors and political scientists who have been having this conversation among themselves."—Amanda Frost, The Green Bag

“[A] very elegant yet complex hypothesis, described with great eloquence… Why the Constitution Matters is beautifully written and a pleasure to read.”—Judith A. Kaul, Law Library Journal

"The book is a very interesting read and would be an excellent supplement in an undergraduate constitutional law class."—T. M. Jackson, CHOICE

“Overall, this book provides a thought-provoking approach to constitutional analysis. Its clear coverage of complex issues creates an accessibility that is sometimes not present in this genre of academic thought. Consequently, Why the Constitution Matters provides an appropriately democratic discussion for a wide audience of readers.”—Amanda Harmon Cooley, Political Studies Review

ISBN: 9780300150377
Publication Date: September 27, 2011
208 pages, 5 1/4 x 7 3/4