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Professor Louis Michael Seidman Authors New Book on the Constitution

January 7, 2013 —

Professor Louis Michael Seidman Professor Louis Michael Seidman

Why should we care about what the Constitution says? Should we feel obligated to obey it?  How can we make decisions today based on a document created more than 200 years ago?

Georgetown University Law Center Professor Louis Michael Seidman asks these thought-provoking questions and others in his new book On Constitutional Disobedience (Oxford University Press, 2013).

Seidman argues that we should not feel obligated to obey the Constitution, an 18th-century document written by individuals who lived in a preindustrial society largely dependent on slave labor. He reminds us that the Constitution itself was born of disobedience when the delegates summoned to Philadelphia ignored the mandate to amend the Articles of Confederation, but instead decided to toss them out and start over.

Seidman contends that strict adherence to the Constitution has contributed to the breakdown of our political dialogue. He is critical of those who use the Constitution as a political weapon to defeat their opponents. Rather than relying on interpretations of the Constitution for political gain, he recommends that both sides take a hard look at the merits of their own proposals as well as those of their adversaries.

On Constitutional Disobedience CoverSeidman believes that the Constitution should not be viewed as a legal document, but rather as an inspiration to help us better handle the modern challenges we face. After all, he maintains, the framers knew nothing of nuclear weapons, cell phones or global warming. And we have no way of knowing what they would have thought about gay marriage, globalization, the war on terror or myriad other issues we are dealing with today.

“This is a deeply provocative book from one of our most thoughtful and skeptical constitutional thinkers,” says New York University School of Law Professor Barry Friedman. “Whether you agree or disagree, Seidman is surely right that we must take ownership of the world we live in. Allow yourself to be provoked.”

“No contemporary scholar challenges conventional conceptions about constitutional law more than Louis Michael Seidman,” writes Georgetown Law Professor David Cole. “Seidman’s provocative defense of constitutional disobedience may or may not convince you, but it will challenge you to rethink some of society’s most foundational beliefs.” 

Seidman is the Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Constitutional Law at Georgetown Law, where he teaches courses in constitutional and criminal law. He was the James Monroe Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Virginia School of Law and a visiting professor at Harvard Law School and New York University School of Law.

After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1971, Seidman served as a law clerk for Judge J. Skelly Wright of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. He was then a staff attorney with the D.C. Public Defender Service until joining the Georgetown Law faculty in 1976.

Seidman is the co-author of a constitutional law casebook and the author of several articles concerning criminal justice and constitutional law. His most recent books are Silence and Freedom (Stanford, 2007), Equal Protection of the Laws (Foundation, 2002) and Our Unsettled Constitution: A New Defense of Constitutionalism and Judicial Review (Yale, 2001).

 In 2011, Seidman was elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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