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Orthodoxy or Orthopraxy: Does the Text of the Constitution Matter?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011
12:10-1:45 pm (Lunch Provided)
Room 120, Yale Law School


What is American constitutionalism? Is it an orthodoxy based on the text of a document drafted in 1787, or is it defined by our constitutional practices where the text merely sustains constitutional discourse but does not define it? Should America's quasi-religious relationship to the Constitution be defined exclusively by the text of the Constitution or evolving constitutional practice?

These questions implicate the citizen's relationship to the constitution and the political order it establishes. Good Americans, we aretold, are committed to the Constitution. They believe in the Constitution’s legitimacy. But what is the basis of this belief? Is the constitutional text important because it is a sacred text? Or is secular self-government different from theocratic government specifically because citizens, unlike believers,only need to display outward conformity, and not internal commitment? Does American constitutionalism benefit from citizens whose patriotism is quasi-religious? Or, does such patriotic zeal prevent the sort of national self-reflection that a mature democracy should be able to do? These questions have consequences, specifically for judicial interpretation and more generally concerning the very idea of being American.


Akhil Reed Amar

Sterling Professor of Law, Yale Law School; Author of The Bill of Rights: Creation and Reconstruction (1998) and America’s Constitution: A Biography (2005).

Sanford V. Levinson

Visiting Professor, Yale Law School
W. St. John Garwood and W. St. John Garwood, Jr. Centennial Chair in Law at the University of Texas (Austin); Author of Constitutional Faith (1988) and Our Undemocratic Constitution: Where the Constitution Goes Wrong (and How We the People Can Correct It)(2006).