About the Book


The goal of all six editions of this book has been to meet a need for teaching materials that directly confront the core problems of the enterprise of constitutional interpretation. We have organized the book around three basic interrogatives: WHAT is the Constitution that is to be interpreted? WHO may authoritatively interpret it? And HOW is it to be interpreted? We harbor no illusions that constitutional interpretation can or should be an exact science: it is subject to inevitable and often heated controversy because interpretive disputes frequently turn on our deepest disagreements about political morality. But constitutional interpretation need not, indeed, should not, be mere partisan responses to particular practical problems. Constitutional interpretation is performed most adequately and responsibly, we believe, when interpreters articulate and grapple with the difficult political and legal judgments that underlie their choices, including the crucial choice of an interpretive strategy. This view is itself controversial among political scientists, law professors, practicing lawyers, elected public officials, and members of the U.S. Supreme Court. But it is a belief that is hardly unique to us. We hope to convince others to think about and even test its validity for the United States and other nations as well.

We have tried to accomplish these tasks not by focusing exclusively on legal doctrines, but by showing students how constitutional interpretation connects with both political theory and public policy. Constitutional interpretation is, perhaps inevitably, informed by political theory, usually produces legal doctrine, and always interacts with, and sometimes changes, other forces in the political system. In turn, those forces act on the interpretive enterprise, sometimes changing the decisions it yields, sometimes modifying the nature of that enterprise, and occasionally reshaping the polity itself. 

In preparing the sixth edition, we have revised the entire book, added significant recent cases, and expanded and sharpened the Editors’ Notes. Furthermore, we remain committed to the view that not all important constitutional interpretation occurs within the United States Supreme Court and accordingly we include the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's same-sex marriage decision (Goodridge v. Department of Public Health). Finally we prepared a companion volume, Gay Rights and the Constitution (Foundation Press, 2016) (with Linda C. McClain).