The Odd Clauses
Understanding the Constitution Through Ten of Its Most Curious Provisions
By Jay Wexler
(Beacon Press, Hardcover, 9780807000908, 248pp.)
Publication Date: November 1, 2011
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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If the United States Constitution were a zoo, and the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth amendments were a lion, a giraffe, and a panda bear, respectively, then The Odd Clauses would be a special exhibit of shrews, wombats, and bat-eared foxes. Past the ever-popular monkey house and lion cages, Boston University law professor Jay Wexler leads us on a tour of the lesser-known clauses of the Constitution, the clauses that, like the yeti crab or platypus, rarely draw the big audiences but are worth a closer look. Just as ecologists remind us that even a weird little creature like a shrew can make all the difference between a healthy environment and an unhealthy one, understanding the odd clauses offers readers a healthier appreciation for our constitutional system. With Wexler as your expert guide through this jurisprudence jungle, you’ll see the Constitution like you’ve never seen it before.
Including its twenty-seven amendments, the Constitution contains about eight thousand words, but the well-known parts make up only a tiny percentage of the entire document. The rest is a hodgepodge of provisions, clauses, and rules, including some historically anachronistic, some absurdly detailed, and some crucially important but too subtle or complex to get popular attention. This book is about constitutional provisions like Section 2 of the Twenty-first Amendment, the letters of marque and reprisal clause, and the titles of nobility clauses—those that promote key democratic functions in very specific, and therefore seemingly quite odd, ways. Each of the book’s ten chapters shines a much-deserved light on one of the Constitution’s odd clauses—its history, its stories, its controversies, its possible future.
The Odd Clauses puts these intriguing beasts on display and allows them to exhibit their relevance to our lives, our government’s structure, and the integrity of our democracy.
Jay Wexler teaches at the Boston University School of Law. He previously clerked for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and then served as a lawyer in the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel. Wexler’s writing has appeared in Boston magazine, Spy, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, among other publications. His first book was Holy Hullabaloos: A Road Trip to the Battlegrounds of the Church-State Wars.
“I love this book. It is, believe it or not, an utterly entertaining constitutional law book. I am blown away by Wexler's comedic skills and his ability to make the usually dry subject matter so funny and readable.”—Gary Gulman, Finalist, Last Comic Standing and Guest, Late Night With David Letterman and The Tonight Show
“In Holy Hullabaloos, Jay Wexler took us along on what he called a "road trip" to some of the most important places connected to the First Amendment's religion clauses. This time, in The Odd Clauses, Wexler exits off the highway to take us on a tour of some back roads of constitutional law: places scholars and the public seldom visit like the Bill of Attainder Clause or the Third Amendment (which prohibits quartering of troops in private houses during peacetime, in case you didn't know.) The result is magical: you'll have so much fun reading about these unsung constitutional provisions that you won't realize until the trip is over how much you've learned.”— Pamela S. Karlan, Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Professor of Public Interest Law
“The book provides a fresh vantage point from which to consider the Constitution.”—Choice Magazine
“Professor Wexler dispenses his expertise on the Constitution with a light touch, imparting many lasting insights and a few belly laughs along the way. What a delight to discover that our founding document is not only brilliant, but brilliantly weird.”—Ben H. Winters, author of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters
“A know-it-all's treasure trove, a cabinet of constitutional curiosities, The Odd Clauses touches down on NASA, Ellis Island, even Saturday Night Live. Jay Wexler is brilliantly snarky, erudite and comedic.”—Julianna Baggott, author of Girl Talk and Pure
“The maniacs who run the modern American political process seem determined to reduce our Constitution to a electoral fetish object. Thank God, then, that we have Jay Wexler, whose wise and funny treatise reminds us that the Constitution is, like the men who drafted it, brilliant but imperfect. I learned more reading this book than in my entire college career. This isn't saying much given my college career, I realize. But I now plan to attend law school. It's that good.”—Steve Almond, author of Candyfreak and God Bless America