Aziz F. Rana, Cornell Law School

The Rise of the Constitution

Mon, 11/16/2015
201 Marx Hall
Event Category: 

* Please note location:  201 Marx Hall *

Please join us for a LAPA Seminar with Aziz Rana, Professor of Law at Cornell Law School, who will present “The Rise of the Constitution."  The commentator is Keith E. Whittington, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics at Princeton.  

LAPA’s seminar format assumes that seminar participants have familiarized themselves with the paper in advance. The commentator opens the session by summarizing the main themes in the paper and presenting some topics for discussion. The author then has the right of first response before we open to the floor for questions. The seminar will end with a brief reception, giving everyone a chance to mingle and meet.

This book manuscript explores how the Federal Constitution became a site of near unanimous public support in American life.  I argue that the dominance and substantive meaning of constitutional veneration is actually a relatively recent development—the product of a series of interconnected political struggles between the American emergence onto the global stage with the Spanish-American War and World War I and the fallout of student and civil rights protest in the 1970s.  In the process, the book raises a series of questions that have thus far been largely overlooked but that should be central to our conversations about the Constitution.  How did our current consensus emerge?  To what degree did such acceptance depend on the active suppression of alternatives?  And what are the implications of this consensus and its history for contemporary political discourse and institutional possibilities?  In engaging with these questions, I highlight how the Constitution became wedded to a very specific account of national purpose—one grounded in universal equality—which a century ago existed only at the margins of American politics.  Indeed, the rise of modern constitutional veneration is ultimately a story of how the document became synonymous with a once highly embattled view of national identity and, through that process, effectively rose above meaningful political dissent.  

Aziz Rana is a Professor of Law at Cornell Law School and a member of the fields of Government and History at Cornell University.  Prior to joining the Cornell faculty, he was an Oscar M. Ruebhausen Fellow in Law at Yale.  He received his A.B. summa cum laude from Harvard College and his J.D. from Yale Law School.  He also earned a Ph.D. in political science at Harvard, where his dissertation was awarded the university’s Charles Sumner Prize.  His research and teaching centers on American constitutional law and development, with a particular focus on how shifting notions of race, citizenship, and empire have shaped legal and political identity since the founding.  His first book, The Two Faces of American Freedom (Harvard University Press, 2010) (paperback, 2014), situates the American experience within the global history of colonialism, exploring the intertwined relationship in American constitutional practice between internal accounts of freedom and external projects of power and expansion.  He has written essays and op-eds for such venues as The New York Times, The Nation,,, Jacobin, and N+1. He has recently published articles and chapter contributions (or has them forthcoming) with Yale University Press, California Law Review, and Texas Law Review among others. 

Keith E. Whittington is William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics at Princeton University and currently director of graduate studies in the Department of Politics. He is the author of Constitutional Construction: Divided Powers and Constitutional Meaning, and Constitutional Interpretation: Textual Meaning, Original Intent, and Judicial Review, and Political Foundations of Judicial Supremacy: The Presidency, the Supreme Court, and Constitutional Leadership in U.S. History (which won the C. Herman Pritchett Award for best book in law and courts and the J. David Greenstone Award for best book in politics and history), and Judicial Review and Constitutional Politics. He is the editor (with Neal Devins) of Congress and the Constitution and editor (with R. Daniel Kelemen and Gregory A. Caldeira) of The Oxford Handbook of Law and Politics and editor of Law and Politics: Critical Concepts in Political Science. He is also the author (with Howard Gillman and Mark A. Graber) of American Constitutionalism, vol. 1: Structures of Government and American Constitutionalism, vol. 2: Rights and Liberties (which together won the Teaching and Mentoring Award for innovative instructional materials in law and courts), and American Constitutionalism: Powers, Rights and Liberties (a one-volume abridgement). Whittington has published widely on American constitutional theory and development, federalism, judicial politics, and the presidency. He is editor (with Gerald Leonard) of New Essays on American Constitutional History and editor (with Maeva Marcus, Melvin Urofsky, and Mark Tushnet) of the Cambridge Studies on the American Constitution. His book, American Political Thought: Readings and Materials, is now in press, and he is completing Repugnant Laws: Judicial Review of Acts of Congress from the Founding to the Present.