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The People Against Themselves: Rethinking Popular Constitutionalism

  • Sean Beienburg and Paul Frymer

Abstract

In the course of reviewing Jed Shugerman's The People's Courts: Pursuing Judicial Independence in America and Bruce Ackerman's The Civil Rights Revolution, we argue for a reassessment of the way that scholars think about popular constitutionalism. In particular, we urge scholars to resist the tendency to create a dichotomy between judicial interpretation of law and a set of nonjudicial venues in which popular constitutionalism supposedly takes place. Popular constitutionalism is temporally and contextually bound, reflected in different forms and forums at different times in US political history and always dependent on the interactions between these institutions. By implication, this suggest that judges, rather than serving as obstacles to popular understandings of law, can and have used various forms of democratic authorization to strike down legislation violating both state and federal constitutions, thus bridging judicial review and popular constitutionalism with explicit support from the citizenry.

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