Flexibility of the Constitution

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The United States Constitution is defined by Anzovin and Podell (1988), as, in simplest terms, the law of the land and a flexible document. The first former statement is supported by the Supremacy Clause in the Constitution that declares that it, along with federal statutes and treaties, are the highest form of law in the U.S. legal system. Edwards, Wattenberg, and Lineberry (2011) also define a constitution as a nation’s basic law and add that it “creates political institutions, allocates power with the government, and often provides guarantees to citizens” (p. 28). The aforementioned source continues that a constitution can be evidently written as well as “unwritten” in the form of an accumulation of precedents and traditions that have “established acceptable means of governing” (p. 28). According to Schubert (1964) this unwritten Constitution involves an important process allocated to the judicial branch of the government, called judicial review. This brings the topic back to the flexibility of the Constitution, as Strauss (2010) has concluded that the power of judicial review is one element of why it is called a “living document.” Landmark cases such as McCulloch v. Maryland and Marbury v. Madison (in which the Court granted itself judicial review) are examples, stated by Swindler (1978), of important interpretations of the Constitution in U.S. history. Judicial review is not as overtly flexible, but it is malleable due to interpretation by the Supreme Court. For example, Edwards, Wattenberg, & Lineberry (2011) describe the case of Gideon v. Wainwright in which the justices extended the right to an attorney for anyone, despite their financial circumstance. The Court interpreted the Constitution’s Sixth Amendment, that merely states a citizen’s right to an attorney cannot be infringed, to mean that a lawyer appointed by the state must be provided if a defendant could not afford one. Although not stated in the Constitution, this precedent was reached by


References: Anzovin, S., & Podell, J. (1988). Preface. The U.S. Constitution and the Supreme Court: The H.W. Wilson Company. Berger, R. (1969). Congress v. The Supreme Court. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Corwin, E. (1958). The Constitiution and What it Means Today. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Edwards, G., Wattenberg, M., & Lineberry, R. (2011). Civil Liberties and Public Policy. Government in America : People, Politics, and Policy: Pearson Education, Inc. Schubert, G. (1964). Constitutional Politics: Holt, Rinehart and WInston, Inc. Swindler, W. (1978). McCulloch v. Maryland. The Constitution and Chief Justice Marshall: Dodd, Mead & Company. Tapscott, M. Whatever happened to a 'Government of Laws, Not of Men '?. Washington Examiner.

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