Both Sides Now: The Interactive Constitution

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Category: Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Federalism, First Amendment, Legal History, Public
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Constitution & GavelI recently learned about an amazing feature on the National Constitution Center website: an interactive Constitution. The site contains the entire United States Constitution and all of its amendments.

Click on any part—the Preamble, any of the seven articles, or any of the 27 amendments—and view the text of that part, along with the dates of its signing or passage and its ratification. You’ll also learn if any part of the Constitution was changed by an amendment.  Article I contains several sections that were changed by later amendments. For example, click on the highlighted text in Article I, section 3 (“The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote”) to learn that this section was changed by the 17th Amendment, which allows for the direct popular election of senators.

The most interesting part, however, is that you’ll also get views from constitutional scholars “across the legal and philosophical spectrum.” The National Constitution Center chose scholars to write about each part of the Constitution with guidance from both The American Constitution Society and The Federalist Society. According to the site,

The pairs of scholars find common ground, writing a joint statement of what they agree upon about that provision’s history and meaning. Then the scholars write individual statements describing their divergent views on that part of the Constitution.

For example, the First Amendment has commentary by four different pairs of scholars for each of its four clauses—the Establishment Clause, the Free Exercise Clause, the Freedom of Speech and of the Press Clause, and the Freedom of Assembly and Petition Clause. Select a clause from the drop-down menu on the left, and you get “Matters of Debate” for that clause. It’s really easy—and informative—to spend time clicking back and forth.

Presently, the site has interactive materials for the Preamble and the first 15 Amendments; over the next two years, it will complete interactive materials for the rest of the Constitution and remaining Amendments. You can even download a free app for both Apple and Android.

Another cool feature: the search function. It was super-easy to locate, for example, the (recently) much-talked about Emoluments Clause (Article I, section 9, clause 8).

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