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Book Review

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The forty-fifth presidency of the United States has sent lawyers reaching once more for the Founders’ dictionaries and legal treatises. In courtrooms, law schools, and media outlets across the country, the original meanings of the words etched into the U.S. Constitution in 1787 have become the staging ground for debates ranging from the power of a president to trademark his name in China to the rights of a legal permanent resident facing deportation. And yet, in this age when big data promises to solve potential challenges of interpretation and judges have for the most part agreed that original meaning should at least count for something, a historian named Jonathan Gienapp in the Stanford University History Department has returned from the archives with a paradigm-shifting proposition. Not only were the intentions of the drafters of the Constitution diverse, as scholars have long recognized. Not only were the meanings of their chosen words uncertain, as others have since emphasized. Instead, the very thing that we might think of as the U.S. Constitution simply did not yet exist in that storied moment when ink met parchment and we the people said aye.


Administrative Law | Communications Law | Constitutional Law | First Amendment | Law | Law and Politics | Legal History | Legal Writing and Research | President/Executive Department | Science and Technology Law | United States History


The Second Creation: Fixing the American Constitution in the Founding Era by Jonathan Gienapp, Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2018, p. 464, $35.00.