Read The Entire Constitution

January 15th, 2014

Today is the first day of class. In ConLaw, I am trying some new. I aim to go through the text of the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and the entire Constitution (with the Amendments). This will be tough, and I will have to cover a lot of ground in 2 hours, but I think this is important. Most of ConLaw focuses on a few Amendments (1st, 5th, and 14th) and a few clauses of the Constitution (commerce, necessary & proper, take care, judicial power, etc.). Most law students will never even read (let alone study) the entire Constitution–and forget about the key antecedent documents, the Declaration and the Articles of Confederation. That is why my goal for the first class is to at least mention every single clause in these charters, so the students know about them. Whether they ever have occasion to think about the Journal Clause, or the tonnage clause, or the adjournment clause (which was actually mentioned during the Noel Canning argument) is unlikely. But at least they will be exposed to it.

I will begin class with a favorite quote from Justice John Marshall Harlan I, that rings true in constitutional law classes in 1897, and 2014 alike.

I have often been astounded to meet with lawyers who have actually never read the Constitution of the United States, although it can be read within the time that is wasted at a street corner some afternoon discussing the last game of baseball or the last prize fight. They may have examined particular clauses, but have never read the entire instrument so as to comprehend in a general way the system of government ordained by it . . . .

Now, I beg you that this may not be said of any member of this law class that he allow this week to pass without read- ing the Constitution. Some knowledge of the principles underlying the government under which we live ought to be possessed by every person who owes duties to that government, or upon whom its laws operate, or who depends upon it for protection of his life, liberty, and property. Freedom and free institutions cannot long be entertained by a people who do not understand the nature of the government under which they live.

—Justice John Marshall Harlan I, October 14, 1897.

Update: Here is video of the class.