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Constitutional Construction: Divided Powers and Constitutional Meaning

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ISBN-13: 978-0674005839
ISBN-10: 067400583X
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Paperback, June 14, 2001
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Editorial Reviews


Mr. Whittington sees the Constitution not as an immutable legal document but as something more fluid and more mysterious, a powerful and authoritative force which constantly influences political outcomes while itself being subject to politics. Battles over constitutional construction are of course political battles...[and] Mr. Whittington has interesting things to say about the way these conflicts play out. (Peter A. Jay Washington Times)

Constitutional Construction offers renewed vigor to a tired field and should provoke some fresh thinking by constitutional scholars. (Jeremy Rabkin Weekly Standard)

This book is an important addition to modern constitutional theory. Whittington brings to life an old but not well understood idea--that constitutional development is the product of judicial interpretation and binding rules and of political practice. (J. B. Grossman Choice)

Constitutional Construction is a fine example of institutional analysis...displays a fine feel for political nuance and sensitivity to institutional subtlety...shows that is possible to do exceptional political analysis without it becoming legalistic scholarship...[and is] exceptionally well written...Whittington's book demonstrates that political science profits handsomely from history. Political science without history isn't very good political science. And history without political science often amounts to little more than storytelling. The quality of this book's history is every bit as good as the quality of its political science. (Craig Ducat Law and Politics Book Review)

This is a superb, pathbreaking book that demonstrates the dual nature of constitutional change. Through a subtle analysis of congressional-presidential politics, Whittington convincingly argues that the process by which constitutional meaning is defined is not solely the purview of the Supreme Court and lesser courts. He shows that the Constitution gains meaning as a result of the politics of construction engaged in by political actors seeking political and policy objectives...[Constitutional Construction] is must reading for a wide range of scholars of American institutions and political development, law and courts, history, and American political thought. (Ronald Kahn American Political Science Review)

A major theoretical contribution to the perennial debate on the...fundamental, recurrent questions in American constitutional law. (James E. Bond Humane Studies Review)

Whittington's book is among the most important recently published about constitutional theory and history. (Mark Tushnet Journal of Interdisciplinary History)

Constitutional Construction provides a needed corrective to the works of constitutional theorists who focus solely on jurisprudential issues...Whittington concludes that scholars need to look beyond the courts and recognize the multifaceted nature of the Constitution. (Michael Ross Journal of Southern History)

About the Author

Keith E. Whittington is Assistant Professor of Politics at Princeton University.

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Product Details

  • Series: Divided Powers and Constitutional Meaning
  • Paperback: 316 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (May 15, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067400583X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674005839
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,017,213 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Keith E. Whittington is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics at Princeton University. His work on American constitutional law, theory and politics, federalism, judicial politics, and the presidency has been published widely in books, scholarly journals, and elsewhere. He is a fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and winner of the J. David Greenstone Award and the C. Herman Pritchett Award, among other honors.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By R. Price on February 24, 2006
Format: Paperback
An unfortunate tendency of American constitutional scholarship is to focus on constitutional meaning as expressed by the courts. Whittington argues that this ignores the numerous ways in which political usage and traditions have shaped constitutional meanings, both great and small, in areas that are incapable of judicial elaboration. Whittington calls this process "constitutional construction"; a construction is the constitutional meaning resulting from a political clash. For those familiar with British constitutionalism, this will be familiar because it is similar to the British idea of a constitutional convention.

Whittington examines the constructions that emerged from pivotal political battles. He shows how these political clashes elucidated meaning in issues such as impeachment, judicial independence, and separation of powers, among others. The mixture of history and constitutional theory is similar to that of Ackerman's We The People, but where Ackerman focuses on so-called "constitutional moments" and their results, Whittington examines normal politics and demonstrates how these periods also produce meaningful constitutional understandings. In fact, the meaning elucidated in normal politics may be more important because of the number of them. Anyone interested in history and constitutional politics will find this work intellectually fulfilling.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Dickey on March 9, 2004
Format: Paperback
Whittington's argument is phenomenal: there is more to Constitutional theory than words or ideas surrounding its creation. There are a multiplicity of actors and institutions that interpret it according to their vantage.
Looking at crises in American history, Whittington realizes there is more than the Constitution that its words. "High crimes and misdemeanors" mean different things to different people in different situations. The Constitution as a compact among people or among states also gives rise to radically different interpretations of the delegated powers of government. By examining eras that streched the rule of American law to the breaking point, the impeachment of Samuel Chase, the Nixon impeachment, nullification, and others, Whittington takes a full view of Constitutionalism for what it is: an evolving philosophy shaped by more than the Framers and Courts. It is shaped by the Executive, the Legislature, and the will of the people.
It is a constantly evolving document whose meaning is defined according to those who interpret it. A great piece of writing, written very well weaving the story of America with the evolution of Constitutionalism. Highly recommended for anyone looking for a full understanding of American government.
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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Bradley Morrow on June 4, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I thoroughly enjoyed the book from cover to cover. It all started with the forward and biography and moved quickly with the rest of the reading. Mr. Whittington's ideas and theories concerning the Constitution were well laid out and easy to understand. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a better understanding of the Constitution.
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Constitutional Construction: Divided Powers and Constitutional Meaning
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