Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Fault Lines in the Constitution

Sandy Levinson

My wife and I have co-authored a book, directed primarily at 10-18 year olds, titled Fault Lines in the Constitution:  The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws that Affect Us Today.  It focuses very much on structural features of the Constitution, though rights appear in the context of chapters on habeas corpus and the broader problem of emergency powers.  The book will be published on September 1 by Peachtreec Publishers.  Cynthia and I will talk about the book at the National Book Festival in Washington on September 2.  

One of the central issues raised by the book, both explicitly and implicitly, involves civic education.  What should youngsters be learning about the Constitution?  Readers of Balkinization will not be surprised to learn that we believe that students need to learn far more about the structural aspects of the Constitution and, of course, to learn how crucial these aspects are.  My own hope is that student readers will ultimately argue as vigorously with one another about the presidential veto power or the allocation of voting power in the Senate as they do about the implications of the rights provisions of the Constitution.The general topic of civic education will be the topic of a major conference at the University of Texas on February 16-17.  I am organizing a panel on constitutional law casebooks and their implicit pedagogicalthursts with an all-star cast of casebook editors. There will also be a panel specifically on Fault Lines.  But most of the panels are being organized by my daughter Meira Levinson, who teaches at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and has written extensively on civic education; they will address some of the general problem of civic education in contentious societies and times like our own.  As we get close to the time, I will certainly set out the complete program. 

As part of our efforts to promote the book, we are posting columns on a blog site every couple of weeks of so, The most recent discusses the shooting at the Republican practice for the congressional baseball game several weeks ago and the potential implications had it turned into a genuine massacre of dozens of senators or representatives.  The Constitution is quite terrible with regard to "continuity in government," something we are all too confident is rarely brought up in those few civics courses that continue to be taught.  Indeed, it is interesting to note the consequences even of John McCain's illness, for his inability to vote would have doomed the bill with the loss of two Republican votes, given that the vote would then have been 50-49, whereas if McCain had been there, and voted yes to proceed with the debate, then the vote would have been 50-50, with Pence being able to break the tie. 

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