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The Invisible Constitution (Inalienable Rights) 1st Edition

2.9 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195304251
ISBN-10: 019530425X
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Editorial Reviews


"A number of sharp and provocative ideas... While many law-review articles have covered the same territory, Tribe lends a unique breadth of knowledge... this stands as one of the most learned and widest-ranging studies of the limitations involved in rendering legal judgment solely on the basis of the Constitution's text."--Book Forum

"His original views here are carefully distinguished from the ideas of an 'unwritten Constitution.' His provocative analysis and arguments will challenge readers' understanding of constitutional provisions. Strongly recommended for all academic libraries."--Library Journal

"Only a grand master like Laurence Tribe could write this masterpiece. Constitutional interpretation, the understanding of the role of a constitution in a nation's life, and the relationship between constitutional text and context will never be the same as they were before this powerful, inspiring, and original book was written."--Aharon Barak, Chief Justice of Israel (1995-2006)

"From our country's most renowned scholar of constitutional law comes a book so breathtaking in its originality and wide-ranging in its scope that it will become an instant classic. To read The Invisible Constitution is to enter the mind of a brilliant thinker as he reflects upon many of the most important issues of the day."--Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

"This book is a kick in the shin to 'textualism' and 'originalism,' in that Tribe begins from the principle that the written, or 'visible,' Constitution so revered by conservative jurists is, in fact, only a small part of what Americans think of as the Constitution. he offers a blueprint for reimagining the national constitutional conversation with fuller information about its complexities and internal tensions. He asks us to take the time to figure out what the founding document does rather than nitpicking about what it says. And if ever there were a moment in which liberal thinkers might allow themselves to dream big, this should be it."--Slate

"Laurence Tribe offers us a wonderfully far-reaching and mind-bending seminar on what lies beneath, beyond, before, betwixt and between the ink marks of the parchment Constitution and its amendatory postscripts."--Akhil Amar, author of America's Constitution: A Biography

"One of America's leading constitutional experts has delivered a thought-provoking volume that illuminates the complexities of the country's most important document."--U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein

"Laurence Tribe yet again delivers the goods: this is a thought-provoking examination of some of the most critical constitutional questions of our times. Eminently readable, The Invisible Constitution will give rise to many an important debate--and, perhaps, help put an end to one or two as well."--Nina Totenberg, National Public Radio

"This lucid, deeply engaging book is truly mind-expanding, looking beyond the text of the document for a completely new framework for understanding the Constitution and its interpretation."--Scott Turow, author of Presumed Innocent and Ultimate Punishment

About the Author

Laurence H. Tribe is Carl M. Loeb University Professor and Professor of Constitutional Law, Harvard University. He has published more than 100 books and articles, including American Constitutional Law, On Reading the Constitution, and Abortion: The Clash of Absolutes. In addition, he has argued more than three dozen cases before the Supreme Court of the United States and has frequently testified before Congress on a broad range of constitutional issues.
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Product Details

  • Series: Inalienable Rights
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (September 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019530425X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195304251
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 0.9 x 5.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #483,648 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I had the privilege to be taught Con Law by Prof Tribe in the 80s. Although my political views were and are somewhat to his right (although to Justice Scalia's left), I still regard him as the most brilliant teacher I encountered at HLS. His ability to synthesize complex ideas and corresponding facility to express them were astonishing. The lengthy sentences one finds in this book are exactly how he spoke in class, with not even an 'um' or 'you know' to give a notetaker a break. His facility with US law and gift of expression were all the more impressive given that he was born to Russian emigres in Shanghai and majored in math (not your typical pre-law curriculum) before law school. I was and am in awe of a mind with so much capability.
At the same time, even the most brilliant minds are not perfect. In the late 70s, Prof Tribe wrote a very long article finding, in a Rehnquist Court opinion, National League of Cities v Usery, which took the rare step of using the 10th Amendment to invalidate a federal law imposing new financial obligations on state governments relative to their employees, a reading that supported imposing an affirmative obligation to deliver "essential services" to citizens - an unlikely intention in a Rehnquist era opinion. By the time I had reached his class, Professor Tribe was telling students the article was "the dumbest thing I ever wrote" and repudiating its analysis. While that kind of intellectual honesty is incredibly admirable, it served as an invitation to all to think critically about his work generally and not accept it out of awe.

Some years ago, Prof Tribe lamented that there was no longer any coherent basis he could find for a unified approach to interpreting the Constitution.
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Format: Hardcover
I read this book last week and found it rather difficult to get through. Professor Tribe sometimes had exceedingly lengthy sentences that I found myself constantly re-reading and dissecting. I thought perhaps my intellectual powers were diminishing at the ripe old age of 41! So I am glad to see others had difficulty reading it, too.

That aside, the topic was exactly what I was searching for. A conversation with someone involving the separation of church and state set me off on a tangent. I was interested in the discrepancies between what the constitution actually says and what our interpretions of it lead us to believe. In many of the judicial decisions such as the Dredd Scott case and Brown v. Board of Education the Supreme Court goes from one end of the philosophical spectrum to the another, laden with the conservative or liberal idiosyncracies of the justices. The two cases above represent diametrical decisions. I was trying to understand why such latitude and inconsistency exist in an area (law) that greatly affects American life. The Supreme Court has exacted the reputation for being the "final stop" on law and justice yet its decisions (based on constitutional law) have been notoriously inconsistent and unabashedly partisan.

Professor Tribe, when I could understand him, addressed most of those issues. And the citation of cases for reference was indispensible. The chapters are broken up into small sections which helps alot with the subject matter. Tje professor is not so much concerned with what the constitution says as he is with the effect it has on American Life: social, economic and political. The book will bear another reading, though.
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Format: Hardcover
Ah, the Internet, where a stray dog can bark and yap at a king. Tribe is an eminence grise of constitutional law, but this book doesn't reflect very positively on him: it's lazy, repetitive, and haphazardly organized. One suspects that it was an interesting 90 minute lecture before it was padded out to book length.

The first 25% of the text is dedicated to telling you how great the book is going to be when you finally get to it. I read it so you don't have to: skip this part.

The middle 50% of the book advances the argument that there are principles and rules generally agreed to be of constitutional force even though they appear nowhere in the actual text of the Constitution. For example, it's widely believed that the First Amendment to the Constitution prevents states from unduly restricting citizens' right to free speech. But the Amendment doesn't really say that; the text applies this restriction only to the U.S. Congress. The extension to the states is implicit.

Unfortunately, that's about as far as the argument goes. Evidently, the existence of an "invisible Constitution" is still something of a disputed issue among constitutional scholars, and in this book Tribe is more concerned with establishing a strong case for the existence of SOME "invisible Constitution" than he is with outlining what that constitutional "dark matter" might contain.

It's hard not to sympathize with his reticence. Any substantive claim about the content of the "invisible Constitution" would probably open more cans of worms than could be comfortably digested in one book. So, he's limited to a handful of airtight examples, none of which seem particularly important or enlightening.
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