Alison LaCroix Writes About Sandy Levinson’s Analysis of McCulloch v Maryland

Federation, Secession, and Union

In 2014, a moment that increasingly feels as though it existed in a different constitutional era, Sandy Levinson launched what he called, not without conscious irony, “the Kansas project.” The project was a volume to be edited by Sandy and published by the University Press of Kansas, on the topic of “neo-nullificationism and neo-secessionism,” as Sandy described it in an email to a group of contributors. Two years later, in 2016, the volume appeared, bearing the title Nullification and Secession in Modern Constitutional Thought.

The “Kansas project” was the first time that I worked with Sandy, and I count myself incredibly fortunate to have been able to benefit since then from the immeasurable boons of his writing, conversation, and intellectual generosity. To borrow and amend Jefferson’s description of Hamilton in a letter to Madison, Sandy is a “colossus”—not, as Hamilton was, to “the antirepublican party,” but rather to the constitutional law party, in all senses of the word “party.” Like Hamilton, Sandy is a one-person army of ideas. He is “an host within himself.”

Clearly, though, Sandy is no Hamiltonian in the obvious senses; indeed, I suspect he would relish being named a thoroughgoing un-Hamiltonian. Sandy is a forceful critic of many aspects of the Constitution, in particular its several undemocratic elements—the very structures (e.g., the Senate, the federal courts) that, in Hamilton’s view, were not sufficient to bring about the national republic that he hoped to build. Historically based arguments that the Constitution was not intended to be democratic, in the modern sense of that word, typically summon Hamilton as a star witness. Sandy’s critiques, in contrast, place Hamilton firmly in the dock.

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