Yale Law Professor Akhil Amar gives insight into unwritten value of American Constitution as the Dean’s Distinguished Lecture
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Office of Communications and Public Relations
April 22, 2014
Professor Akhil Amar, Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University and author of “America’s Unwritten Constitution: The Precedents and Principles We Live By,” gave the Dean’s Distinguished Lecture on Tuesday, April 15, 2014.
Professor Amar discussed the importance and value of the United States Constitution, and the place that it holds within American law and politics. Amar’s book discusses how the solution to many constitutional conflicts lies not simply within the written document, but beyond it. A sequel to his first work, “America’s Constitution: A Biography,” Amar portrays how the fundamental American document must be interpreted through a consideration of judicial decisions, supplemental documents, and the precedents set in place by early presidents and Congress.
Dean Blake Morant welcomed Professor Amar, who opened his lecture with the statement that he was going to discuss America’s “unwritten” Constitution.
“I wrote a book in 2003 trying to walk the reader through the text of America’s Constitution,” he said. “Through this [book] I am hoping to show you a sense of the Constitution not merely as citizens, but as lawyers, and realize it is three times more democratic than we give it credit for being.”
Amar discussed the difference between the “written” and “unwritten” Constitution, and how the difference applies to the divide between textualists and living Constitutionalists.
“We are all textualists left and right, and we are all living Constitutionalists because all of us left, right, and center go beyond the text. The unwritten Constitution is the part of the text that doesn’t say ‘separation of powers,’ doesn’t say ‘rule of law’ and doesn’t say ‘one person, one vote,’ or that racial segregation is inherently unequal. Most importantly, the Constitution doesn’t tell us explicitly how to interpret it.”
Amar asserted that it is imperative to go beneath the document itself, and realize that we must utilize the power of constitutional interpretation.
“Interpretations of the text help guide us through the unwritten constitution, and if we can look back, we have to be equally willing to turn the camera forward to see what principles will be added to what America will look like in the future. Much of America’s history remains to be written, and much of the Constitution remains to be framed…you can be framers of the future, and we are heirs now to an amazing tradition.”
Professor Amar teaches Constitutional Law at both Yale College and Yale Law School.
He received his B.A, summa cum laude, in 1980 from Yale College, and his J.D. in 1984 from Yale Law School, where he served as an editor of The Yale Law Journal.
After clerking for Judge Stephen Breyer, U.S. Court of Appeals, 1st Circuit, Professor Amar joined the Yale faculty in 1985. Along with Dean Paul Brest and Professors Sanford Levinson, Jack Balkin, and Reva Siegel, Professor Amar is the co-editor of a leading constitutional law casebook, Processes of Constitutional Decisionmaking. He has written numerous books and articles on constitutional law subjects, including The Constitution and Criminal Procedure: First Principles (Yale Univ. Press, 1997), The Bill of Rights: Creation and Reconstruction (Yale Univ. Press, 1998), America’s Constitution: A Biography (Random House, 2005), and most recently, America’s Unwritten Constitution: The Precedents and Principles We Live By (Basic Books, 2012).