Revised Heritage Guide to the Constitution

by Ed Whelan

The Heritage Foundation is today releasing a revised second edition of its Heritage Guide to the Constitution, the first edition of which was issued in 2005. The second edition “takes into account a decade of Supreme Court decisions and legal scholarship on such issues as gun rights, religious freedom, campaign finance, civil rights, and health care reform.”

On a review of the advanced galley, I am confident that the praise that I offered for the first edition (in this NR book review) will apply fully to the revised edition:

The Heritage Guide to the Constitution is an invaluable reference work that anyone interested in learning more about the Constitution should have on his bookshelf. It consists primarily of a couple hundred or so brief essays — the vast majority no more than a page or two in length — on every clause or subclause in the Constitution. Each essay attempts to explain the original meaning of the provision that it addresses as well as to set forth the current state of the law on that provision. Each essay also sets forth, where appropriate, cross-references to other relevant provisions in the Constitution, citations to legal materials for further exploration, and a list of significant cases.

More than 100 experts — mostly law professors but also academics from a variety of other fields as well as a smattering of judges and lawyers — have contributed the essays. The essays are clearly written, concise, and highly informative. They are scholarly and dispassionate, not polemical. The Heritage Guide also contains three brief and elegant introductory essays by the editors — one by [former Attorney General Edwin] Meese on basic constitutional principles, one by [Matthew] Spalding on the history of the Constitutional Convention, and one by [David] Forte on originalism.

Anyone doing serious research on a question of constitutional law will find the Heritage Guide an excellent starting point. But the book is also a pleasure to browse, as the casual reader can bounce from topics like the Recess Appointments Clause to Treason to the Rights Retained by the People. The fact that less than one-fourth of the book relates to constitutional amendments may also serve to remind the modern reader, who too often hears about little other than the Bill of Rights and some generalized, nontextual right of privacy, that the real genius of the Constitution, the greatest guarantee of our liberties, lies in its scheme of separated powers.

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