The Citizen’s Constitution: An Annotated Guide

By Seth Lipsky


Basic Books


From a review in The New Criterion by Andrew McCarthy:

Lipsky writes, rather, for the layman, with a craftsman’s eye for what matters most, the simple yet pregnant text, and a newspaperman’s eye for color. Drawing on four decades of editorial insight, he found two constants. First, although the Constitution was adopted with the outlook and technology of the late eighteenth century, it has proved timeless: principled enough to be adapted to new circumstances without coming unmoored from the landscape of its creation. The Framers could not have imagined a behemoth of an intelligence community capable of monitoring communications transmitted in digital packets along the variegated wires and microwaves of international telecom networks, but the info-tech revolution does not change the Fourth Amendment’s bottom-line question: Was the search unreasonable?

Second, for all its elegant simplicity and its ubiquity in the lives of citizens, there was, until now, no practical guide to which ordinary Americans could resort for concise answers to what the Constitution requires in a given situation. To the contrary, there is either too little (namely, the pocket-size copies without annotation that many of us carry about) or too much (the lengthy treatises with page counts that run into the thousands and are geared for the scholar or practitioner). The latter is plainly impractical for the common man. The former, while helpful, is of limited value. After all, text is the most important thing, but it is not the only thing in a society where, for example, the Fourteenth Amendment’s prohibition against any state’s “den[ial] to any person … of the equal protection of the laws” is understood somehow to permit affirmative action programs or where the First Amendment’s admonition that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech” has been understood from the start to allow regulation of all sorts of expression—from obscenity to advertisements to leaks of classified information.

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