Randy Barnett on the Declaration

Barnett cover copyRandy Barnett, currently professor of law at Georgetown Law School, is one of the most important constitutionalists today. His latest book, Our Republican Constitution: Securing the Liberty and Sovereignty of We the People, will have a long shelf life as an important treatise on constitutional originalism. Barnett is all the more interesting for having come to his interest in constitutional law indirectly. As he explained in a previous book (Restoring the Lost Constitution), he began his academic career in practical legal fields like tax law, with little interest in constitutional law until by degrees he came to see how modern legal doctrine was perverting the substance of the Constitution.

Today in the Washington Post’s Volokh Conspiracy subsite Barnett has a great piece drawn from the second chapter of his book about the centrality of the Declaration of Independence for understanding the Constitution—a proposition that is often controverted or denied even by conservatives. Beyond the argument about natural right and consent in the famous second paragraph, Barnett understands clearly the important of “one people” in the first paragraph, and the importance of the list of specific grievances against the king in the bulk of the Declaration that too many people skip over or do not give enough weight.

The whole thing is worth reading, but here’s one highlight:

The Americans had to allege more than mere violations of rights. They had to allege nothing short of a criminal conspiracy to violate their rights systematically. Hence the Declaration’s famous reference to “a long train of abuses and usurpations” and the list that followed. In some cases, these specific complaints account for provisions eventually included in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

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