Why the Constitution Matters Mark Tushnet

Why X Matters Series
Publication date:
27 Sep 2011
Yale University Press
208 pages: 197 x 133mm
Sales territories:

A major legal scholar presents an empowering reassessment of our nation’s most essential document

In this surprising and highly unconventional work, Harvard law professor Mark Tushnet poses a seemingly simple question that yields a thoroughly unexpected answer. The Constitution matters, he argues, not because it structures our government but because it structures our politics. He maintains that politicians and political parties—not Supreme Court decisions—are the true engines of constitutional change in our system. This message will empower all citizens who use direct political action to define and protect our rights and liberties as Americans.

Unlike legal scholars who consider the Constitution only as a blueprint for American democracy, Tushnet focuses on the ways it serves as a framework for political debate. Each branch of government draws substantive inspiration and procedural structure from the Constitution but can effect change only when there is the political will to carry it out. Tushnet’s political understanding of the Constitution therefore does not demand that citizens pore over the specifics of each Supreme Court decision in order to improve our nation. Instead, by providing key facts about Congress, the president, and the nature of the current constitutional regime, his book reveals not only why the Constitution matters to each of us but also, and perhaps more important, how it matters.

Mark Tushnet is William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Harvard University.

"Mark Tushnet has written a profoundly important and illuminating book in a wonderfully conversational style. Its emphasis on the importance of structures - and, especially, political parties - is an important corrective to the common reduction of the Constitution to a system of 'fundamental rights.' It deserves to be read by scholars, students, and citizens alike who wish to learn what difference it might truly make that we conduct our politics under the aegis of the Constitution."—Sanford Levinson, author of Our Undemocratic Constitution: Where the Constitution Goes Wrong (and How We the People Can Correct It)

"Overall, this book provides a thought-provoking approach to constitutional analysis. Its clear coverage of complex issues creates an accessibility that is sometimes not present in this genre of academic thought. Consequently, Why the Constitution Matters provides an appropriately democratic discussion for a wide audience of readers."—Amanda Harmon Cooley, Political Studies Review