Monday, April 09, 2007

Pg. 69: "Our Undemocratic Constitution"

Today's feature at the Page 69 Test: Sanford Levinson's, Our Undemocratic Constitution: Where the Constitution Goes Wrong (and How We the People Can Correct It).

About the book, from Oxford University Press:
The Constitution is one of the most revered documents in American politics. Yet this is a document that regularly places in the White House candidates who did not in fact get a majority of the popular vote. It gives Wyoming the same number of votes as California, which has seventy times the population of the Cowboy State. And it offers the President the power to overrule both houses of Congress on legislation he disagrees with on political grounds. Is this a recipe for a republic that reflects the needs and wants of today's Americans?

Taking a hard look at our much-venerated Constitution, Sanford Levinson here argues that too many of its provisions promote either unjust or ineffective government. Under the existing blueprint, we can neither rid ourselves of incompetent presidents nor assure continuity of government following catastrophic attacks. Less important, perhaps, but certainly problematic, is the appointment of Supreme Court judges for life. Adding insult to injury, the United States Constitution is the most difficult to amend or update of any constitution currently existing in the world today.

Democratic debate leaves few stones unturned, but we tend to take our basic constitutional structures for granted. Levinson boldly challenges the American people to undertake a long overdue public discussion on how they might best reform this most hallowed document and construct a constitution adequate to our democratic values.
Among the praise for Our Undemocratic Constitution:

"In an ideal world, every citizen would read this book and ponder the profound issues it raises about how to achieve democracy in our republic. As Socratic in spirit, as it is engaging in style, this is a marvelous guide to the pros and cons of democratic reform. Take up its invitation to look freshly at institutions you have taken for granted."
--James Fishkin, Stanford University

"Few scholars are in the same league with Professor Sanford Levinson when it comes to raising provocative questions about the Constitution and conventional modes of interpreting its provisions. Whether one agrees or disagrees with his analyses and prescriptions is largely beside the point; what matters is that he forces readers to think about dimensions of constitutional questions that ordinarily go unnoticed. In Our Undemocratic Constitution, Professor Levinson is at his thought-provoking best."
--Robert P. George, Princeton University

"A lucidly written and compelling work, Our Undemocratic Constitution asks hard questions about the nature of our founding document. Levinson, who is one of the nation's leading constitutional scholars, argues here that much about the Constitution stands in need of dramatic change. This is a timely and important book, and our country would benefit if its ideas provoked real debate."
--Elena Kagan, Dean, Harvard Law School

"Levinson's critical discussion of the founding document is bold, bracingly unromantic, and filled with illuminating insights. He accomplishes an unlikely feat, which is to make a really serious argument for a new constitutional convention, one that is founded squarely on democratic ideals. Levinson has valuably shown that parts of America's founding document are seriously flawed, and he has demonstrated that both representatives and citizens should treat the document not with "sanctimonious reverence" but as the revisable product of fallible human beings."
--Cass R. Sunstein, The New Republic

"Admirably gutsy and unfashionable."
--Michael Kinsley, New York Times

Sanford Levinson holds the W. St. John Garwood and W. St. John Garwood, Jr. Centennial Chair in Law at the University of Texas Law School.

His many publications include Torture: A Collection and Wrestling With Diversity. He is a regular participant at the group blogs "Balkinization" and "Open University."

The Page 69 Test: Our Undemocratic Constitution.

--Marshal Zeringue