cover image How to Read the Constitution and Why

How to Read the Constitution and Why

Kim Wehle. Harper, $17.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-289630-8

In this accessible treatise, Wehle, a law professor and commentator for CNN and MSNBC, deplores the state of relationships among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the U.S. government. She argues that the “ingenious” checks and balances the Constitution establishes between the three branches are no longer working, and the executive branch is accumulating too much power. As evidence she cites Congress’s tolerance of the executive branch’s incursions into Congress’s power to declare war, the proliferation of executive orders that bypass congressional legislative priorities, and Congress’s reluctance to employ the Constitution’s emolument and impeachment clauses to check executive overreach. As causes, she identifies the flow of corporate money to political campaigns, state efforts to suppress voter participation, and polarized politics that hampers constructive policy making. She also opines that President Trump lacks respect for constitutional norms and that his behavior presents a realistic threat to democracy. Wehle elegantly translates the Constitution into layperson-friendly terms, using everyday analogies; she compares the American government to an ice cream parlor and an employee manual, and she uses Wallace Stevens’s poem “The Mind of Winter” to explain the plain-language approach to legal interpretation. Her analysis of the consolidation of power in the executive branch, though cogent, will probably only reach readers already concerned about President Trump. (June)