Chicago's Best Ideas, "Does the Constitution Always Mean What It Says?" - Professor David Strauss

Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - 12:15pm - 1:20pm
Room II

The U.S. Constitution is “the supreme Law of the Land.” Of course some of its provisions are vague and must be interpreted. But when the Constitution says something clearly, we follow it. Don’t we?

Actually things are not that simple. There are several important examples of clear language in the Constitution that we do not follow. (For an example, look at the first word of the First Amendment.) Sometimes, in fact, it would be essentially unthinkable to follow themost obvious meaning of apparently clear language.

These are not just slips of the pen by the Framers of the Constitution.Things are more interesting than that: the Framers made deliberate choices that we do not always accept, even though those choices are reflected in the text. The ways in which we ignore apparently clear language in the Constitution can teach us a lot about how American constitutional law actually works.