Constitutional scholar Michael Stokes Paulsen and his son, Luke, offer an uncomplicated but sophisticated primer on the U.S. Constitution that is kept lively by their unabashedly candid evaluations of important Supreme Court opinions. … This is a useful, accessible, and pertinent overview that is well seasoned with opinion.
Where, then—whether one wishes to become an informed citizen, write about national politics as a journalist or scholar, or argue or adjudicate constitutional questions in a court of law—is one to acquire the indispensable knowledge about the Constitution and the history of the nation's efforts to live in accordance with it?
A great place to start is "The Constitution: An Introduction," a new book by the remarkable father-son team of Michael Stokes Paulsen, an eminent professor of law at the University of St. Thomas, Minneapolis, and Luke Paulsen, a recent graduate of Princeton, where he majored in computer science with minors in the classics and humanities.
After discussing the book and much of the Supreme Court’s history, Berkowitz concludes his review this way:
A better approach shines forth from the Paulsens' measured and incisive exploration of constitutional principle and practice. To deal wisely with the controversial questions that inevitably arise under our written Constitution, it is not some delusive purity that we must recover. Rather, it is to the supremacy of the Constitution in its complex dedication to liberty and limited government that we should return.
- The New York Journal of Books posted this fine review by attorney Joan Burda, who commended the book for its balance and accessibility:
This is what makes this book so interesting. Readers who believe the judicial activism has run amuck and the Supreme Court is out of control and needs to be reined in will find kindred souls in Michael and Luke Paulsen. Those that consider themselves “liberal constructionists” will be given an education into why the “strict constructionists” believe as they do.
Either way, both sides of the aisle will find an erudite and entertaining discussion of the U.S. Constitution—where it’s been and how far it’s come. The best part is no one needs to be a constitutional scholar to understand and appreciate this book.
- City Journal, a publication of the Manhattan Institute, posted a wide-ranging, generally favorable review by attorney Adam Freedman. Freedman commends the book as “an excellent resource for non-lawyers and lawyers alike looking to understand the role of constitutional law in American history.”
- Finally, First Things published a magnificently positive review by young legal scholar and Princeton PhD candidate Sherif Girgis in its June/July issue. An excerpt:
The problem is that introductions to the Constitution tend to be tomes or screeds or seventh-grade civics texts. The Constitution: An Introduction by University of St. Thomas law professor Michael Paulsen and his son Luke is the rare exception. It’s short but layered. It displays a professor’s insights and a recent college graduate’s sense for the lay reader’s needs. It tells good stories at a fast clip in limpid prose, with input from a dream team of fact-checkers including Yale law scholar Akhil Amar and Prince- ton historian James McPherson. It is innocent of polemic. And yet the lessons of its well-told history bid fair to soften our superstition and cynicism.
But the book’s greatest achievement is preternaturally good discretion in distilling hundreds of cases and copious scholarship and centuries of good stories to tell. It leaves some ends loose (for example, on state nullification of federal laws) and under- treats some areas of current interest (for example, the electoral college). But remarkably, it doesn’t overlook a major topic or case.
All this erudition the book wears lightly, with humanizing insets, orienting lists and superlatives, smooth writing, and the occasional chatty one-liner to undo years of distortions. (Against having the Supreme Court fix every awful policy, for ex- ample: “There is no ‘It Would Be Unthinkable Clause’ in the Constitution.”) This, then, isn’t just our Constitution’s best short introduction; it might help make our civic culture at once more sober and more hopeful.