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This blog provides a space for conversations about articles and ideas found in AALL Spectrum, the monthly magazine of the American Association of Law Libraries. The previous blog was located at aallspectrum.wordpress.com.
7/10/2012 3:59:52 PM

Book Review—Framed: America’s 51 Constitutions and the Crisis of Governance

Sanford Levinson, Framed: America’s 51 Constitutions and the Crisis of Governance, New York: NY: Oxford University Press, 2012, 437 pages inclusive of index. Hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0-19-989075-0

In the unlikely event I were called upon to help rewrite the federal or a state constitution, I would be sure I had a copy of Sanford Levinson’s Framed: America’s 51 Constitutions and the Crisis of Governance. The book is also eminently useful for the more likely (albeit less dramatic) case of a researcher that wants to think deeply and critically about how American federal and state governments are structured.

Levinson starts by setting aside most of what people think of as “constitutional law.” Topics of major constitutional debate involving controversy over how the Constitution should be properly interpreted comprise what Levinson calls the “constitution of conversation.” Levinson instead focuses on the “constitution of settlement,” those provisions over which there is little disagreement about their meaning. Should federal judges be appointed for life? Should Congress be a bicameral legislature? Should the electorate be able to vote on constitutional amendments? These are not questions of proper interpretation of constitutional text, but rather of the wisdom of structural decisions that, for the most part, were made generations ago.

Reading the book feels a bit like taking a class; Levinson asks more questions than he answers, and he tends to only vaguely allude to his own opinions. On a few matters, though, his views are clear. Whatever the wisdom of the men who drafted the Constitution in 1789, their choices may not be the best now, especially given the United States’ greater population and the increased importance of political parties. Structural choices made in constitutions strongly influence other policy decisions. When considering structural changes, it is wise to look at constitutions of the fifty states and of other nations. I found the discussion of other states’ constitutions fascinating; in many states, constitutional amendments can be proposed and enacted by the electorate, while even the President of the United States is not directly elected.

Levinson’s ultimate proposal is ambitious: a new constitutional convention to revise the federal constitution. Delegates for each state would proportional to each state’s share of the population and selected through lottery. Even though I am not yet convinced that is the best mechanism for constitutional revision, Framed has persuaded me that the federal constitution is in need of some updating. Not every provision is sacred, and we need not be afraid of reworking the foundational document of our government to make it more efficient and effective.

Framed is an intellectually stimulating and refreshing course in constitutional design. It is scholarly, but mostly free of jargon. It is a great choice for academic and public libraries.

Posted By Benjamin Keele at 7/10/2012 3:59:52 PM  0 Comments
TOPICS: book review
7/10/2012 1:25:42 PM

Highlights from MAALL Markings Volume 21, Issue 3

The latest issue (Volume 21, Issue 3) of MAALL Markings, the publication of the Mid-America Association of Law Libraries, has recently been published. This issue contains several articles that will be of interest beyond the MAALL membership. I found two to be especially interesting, but the entire issue is worth at least a quick skim.

First, Karen Wallace provides a well-researched primer on the hiring process in academic law libraries. Having recently completed my first tour of duty on a search committee, I think this article would have given me a good overview of a typical search. I intend to keep the article as a refresher for the next time I am on a search committee. Candidates for positions would also be well-served by reviewing the hiring process from the search committee perspective.

Second, Marcia Dority-Baker discusses how the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Law Library created graphic buttons that serve as links to professors' online presences. For example, a professor's profile page on the law school's site could have easily recognizable links to the professor's SSRN page, professional Twitter feed, or a list of all the professor's articles in the university's institutional repository. By creating these button links, the library helps connect professors' scholarship, regardless of what sites host the content.

Posted By Benjamin Keele at 7/10/2012 1:25:42 PM  0 Comments
7/6/2012 10:39:42 AM

New Issue of the Technical Services Law Librarian is Available

I admit that I had never read an issue of Technical Services Law Librarian before reading the latest issue in order to summarize it here.  I now realize the error of my ways.  It's full of interesting and relevant articles that are well written.  For example, George Prager explains how he assisted with the expansion of the KZ classification schedule to accommodate international criminal law.  It's a fascinating essay about how these schedules are kept up to date.  Ashley Moye gives advice for communicating about RDA with non-catalogers.  I can imagine this also being good advice for library administrators talking with stakeholders from outside the library.  Mary Lippold has some great tips about meetings that all librarians should take to heart.  Aaron Wolfe Kuperman's discussion of the subject heading -Cases is a review of how this subject heading has been used.  

Posted By Sara Sampson at 7/6/2012 10:39:42 AM  0 Comments