cover image From Parchment to Dust: The Case for Constitutional Skepticism

From Parchment to Dust: The Case for Constitutional Skepticism

Louis Michael Seidman. Beacon, $27.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-62097-636-4

Seidman (On Constitutional Disobedience), a professor of constitutional law at Georgetown University, argues in this blunt and provocative treatise that the U.S. Constitution “promotes hypocrisy and dishonesty and encourages zero-sum and explosive disputes that threaten to drive us apart.” He posits that James Madison and other Framers, fearful of direct democracy, created a “diffuse and atomistic political system” that alienates ordinary people from their government and prevents the passage of gun control measures, campaign finance reform, and other legislation supported by large majorities of Americans. Seidman also critiques the culture of “mystification” surrounding the Supreme Court, ridicules the idea that politically appointed judges can be nonpartisan, and picks apart recent decisions that exacerbate tensions by formulating “ordinary political disputes in terms of ‘rights’ that are absolute and nonnegotiable.” Discussions of historical episodes including the Louisiana Purchase, Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus in 1861, and the 1925 Scopes monkey trial buttress Seidman’s arguments against constitutional fundamentalism, though his argument that the U.S. should switch to a “skeptic’s constitution” similar to the British system, which relies on a set of “customs, attitudes, practices, and mutually observed constraints” rather than a “single, integrated document,” feels more theoretical than practical. Still, this is a sharp-edged and well-informed takedown of one of America’s sacred cows. (Oct.)