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A Quiet Public Servant, RIP



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I didn’t know Johnny H. Killian, who died last Sunday at the age of 70.  Truth to tell, until I saw his obituary in the Washington Post this week, I’d never even heard of him.  But like many others, I have benefited from his work.  Killian was for many years a senior specialist at the Congressional Research Service, and in that capacity was responsible for several succeeding editions of the massive reference work The Constitution of the United States: Analysis and Interpretation.  First published in the 1950s under the editorship of the great (and sometimes not-so-great) Edward S. Corwin, Analysis and Interpretation has been for half a century an indispensable reference for the scholar or student who wants to get up to speed quickly on the basics of doctrines and precedents expounded by the Supreme Court.  I first bought a copy of the 1982 edition long ago at a used bookstore in Washington, and it got fairly dog-eared before CRS published its successors, both of which (1992 and 2002) have been downloadable for free from the Government Printing Office.

A self-effacing public servant, Killian did not sign the fresh introductions that he presumably wrote (or led in writing) for the editions he supervised, though his name appeared in the leading position on the title page, along with the names of other editors.  Through the 1982 edition the original introduction by Corwin to the 1953 edition was always reprinted; in the last two editions this was omitted, which was an unfortunate choice on Killian’s part.  Though he may have come to see it as obsolete, its historical interest more than justifies the few pages it occupied in a more than 2,000-page work.

In other respects too Analysis and Interpretation is not perfect.  It is straightforward to the point of extreme dryness, which is to be expected.  It is fairly complacent in its embrace of judicial supremacy, which is too bad, but understandable in a work that attempts to keep up with constitutional doctrine chiefly as it is made by the Supreme Court.  But the great virtue of the volume has always been its breadth rather than its depth.  One can always turn to it to find, or to remind oneself of, the leading cases in any area of constitutional law.  I hope Killian’s colleagues at CRS keep up the good work in which he led them for so long.

Now if you want a reference that supplies pithy capsule essays on all the provisions of the Constitution, with not only analysis but also argument, get a copy of The Heritage Guide to the Constitution.



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