Introducing the Constitutional Redemption Symposium
It is an honor to introduce Jack Balkin and the participants in our online symposium on Constitutional Redemption: Political Faith in an Unjust World (Harvard University Press 2011). From tomorrow through Thursday, we will be discussing Balkin’s important new book, which builds on themes of faith, narrative, and redemption.
Constitutional Redemption describes constitutional interpretation as a dynamic project, one of mistakes, evil, revision, and reform. Social movements, citizens, lawyers, politicians, and judges are pivotal players who “nudg[e] the constitutional-system-in-practice closer to their preferred interpretations of the Constitution.” Their participation is a “necessary, if not sufficient, condition for producing a respect-worthy system.” Through social movement contestation and political agitation, some practices, such as segregation, sex discrimination, or sodomy laws, lose their legitimacy “in the minds of the public,” rendering views that were once thought reasonable and acceptable to be “deemed unreasonable or even off-the-wall.” A story of improvement “underwrites Constitutional legitimacy.” And “each of us has the opportunity and the responsibility to decide what the Constitution means, and to decide whether public officials — including members of the Supreme Court — have been faithful to that meaning.”
Constitutional Redemption contends that the project of constitutional interpretation warrants, and perhaps demands, our committed engagement and belief. Balkin’s theory of framework originalism suggests that we must have faith that the Constitution’s promises can be redeemed, that our constitutional system can be made a “more perfect union.” This leap of faith is a gamble because the future of constitutional law and politics is uncertain, and we can’t be sure how the future will judge the present. But, as Balkin explains, the “constitutional story offered in this book argues that redemption is possible–that is its statement of constitutional faith–but only if the American people choose well and act well.”
Constitutional Redemption raises many provocative and important questions. Can we have faith in the project of constitutional interpretation if its boundaries are ever changing, many times for the worse, and there’s little assurance that past evils won’t re-emerge triumphant? Are all social movements worthy of the project, even if they seek to dismantle constitutional rights and guarantees? Do citizens have a robust responsibility to engage in the constitutional project as part of their faith? Is all of this freedom of interpretation and change frightening, and might some be deterred from believing in the Constitution’s redemptive power due to their fear of what could happen without fixed, enduring principles? Is the best version of originalism one based on the public meaning of the text and its principles rather than on the way the framing generation would have expected the Constitution to be applied?
To discuss these and many other issues, we have invited an exciting group of constitutional scholars:
We are thrilled to have Jack Balkin aboard to participate in the discussion of his terrific book. My co-bloggers will be joining the conversation as well. We are excited for the discussion to begin. Welcome!