Thursday, December 27, 2012

"Lincoln" and Popular Understanding of the Constitution

Mark Tushnet

When a character in the film "Lincoln" says something to the effect that President Lincoln looked forward to signing the Thirteenth Amendment when it reached his desk, the con law wonk in me nudged my wife knowingly -- Hollingsworth v. Virginia and all that. But, Lincoln actually did sign the Thirteenth Amendment, though he didn't have to. (One web-site I located, run by Lincoln scholars (or so it seems) describes that as a "gaffe," which isn't a word one should use lightly in connection with Lincoln and the Constitution.) How many viewers, with at best an "I'm just a bill" knowledge of our Constitution, are going to think that Presidents have to, or even generally do, sign constitutional amendments? I don't fault Spielberg and Kushner for the line; they were working with history as it happened. I do find this little episode interesting in shedding some light on the possibilities of popular constitutionalism, though.

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