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Web Letter

Daniel Lazare claims that Tribe describes the US Constitution as an"indecipherable" document. Lazare evens calls this a "remarkable confession" by Tribe. But Lazare never quotes a passage from the book where Tribe actually states that the Constitution is "indecipherable." So I hope Daniel Lazare will provide Nation readers with a quote and a page number from the book so we can all know exactly where in the book Tribe makes his "remarkable confession."

Sean Smith

Denver, CO

Oct 12 2008 - 8:08am

Web Letter

Mr. Lazare correctly lambastes Larry Tribe's capitulation to the Supreme Court's bizarre and over-reaching power grab in Bush v. Gore, yet commences his attack on the Constitution by ceding its "real" meaning to the several Courts that have underplayed the Preamble. I doubt a capitulation of his own was necessary to prove his understanding of Tribe's approach, so the contradiction is glaring.

Nothing's new in Tribe's approach suggesting indeterminate meanings in short texts consisting of principles, like constitutions. Hardly any greater specificity is achieved by the 451-page Senate bailout bill. The fact is, the Soviet constitution always read better than ours, but never performed better. Any text can be interpreted out of existence, unless the spirit of justice assists its interpretation. Lazare fails to credit Jefferson and Washington for originally pointing out that the rule of law is the tool of tyrants, for law is force, and is nothing without justice. To achieve justice, there is something akin to a rich sea of principles needed to supplement any text whatsoever.

We are not lost at sea, as Lazare's interpretation of Tribe suggests, and as Lazare himself leads us to believe. The Constitution is almost purely process--through which people can solve their own problems democratically. The guidestars for the permissible interpretations of the Constitution are the Declaration of Independence (Jefferson) and the concept of the consent of the governed (Madison), which are both pointed to as arbiters of the true interpretation of the instrument.

Concepts intended to guide us for all "posterity" are necessarily general and not to be achieved in the first few decades, thus "hypocrisy" is an unfair charge. This doesn't mean they aren't guidestars of process to set our compass by, without which we'd be lost at sea. How ironic that both Tribe and Lazare would leave us adrift, one by being too starry-eyed, the other by crushing the compass and thinking he should re-invent the map because other voyagers have read it wrong.

Paul Lehto

Ishpeming, MI

Oct 9 2008 - 3:57am