The Odd Clauses

Understanding the Constitution through Ten of Its Most Curious Provisions

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.

[This] 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 God Bless America

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

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

For about a year, I ran a blog that went with the book called Odd Clauses Watch.  It included news, links, analysis, humor and more regarding many of the weird clauses of the U.S. Constitution—not just ones I discuss in the book but others as well.  I put the blog to bed at the end of February, 2012, but you can check out a lot of odd clauses info in the archives if you’re interested.


The Odd Clauses book cover

Beacon Press (November 1, 2011)

ISBN: 978-080700090-8 (cloth)

ISBGN: 978-080700089-2 (paper)

Order from Amazon

Discussion of the book at Brookline Booksmith from November 2011 broadcast on CSPAN BookTV.

Nice Review from “Choice” Magazine (the magazine of the American Library Association).

Podcast of an interview I did on a radio program called “Your Weekly Constitutional”

Emily Yoffe quotes me and mentions the book in Slate in an article about people using their titles after they leave office.

Lovely review on the incomparable law-humor blog “Lowering the Bar”

Great review on the website of the History Book of the Month Club by a law professor at University of Texas.

Super duper review on a great blog called “For the Defense”

Great review on awesome “Simple Justice” blog.

An interview I did about the book with Library Thing.

Odd Clauses featured on BookTalk, the blog of the American Constitution Society (with my commentary on the Recess Appointments Clause).

A pretty nice review from Reuters/Breaking Views.

A great review from Shelf Awareness (“surprisingly goofy and quite funny”)

A not very good review from the Boston Globe.

A video I made of my 7 year old son reading the Boston Globe’s not very good review.

Radio interview on “Word of Mouth” from New Hampshire public radio

My interview on Midwest Opinions out of Nebraska

Audio from my discussion with Brian Lehrer about the book on WNYC.

A podcast about the book from the LegalTalk Network.

I talk with Steve Almond on WGBH about the book

I talk about the public debt clause of Article IV, and a bit about the book, on The Jim Lehrer show on WNYC

Andrea Seabrook mentions the Odd Clauses and lets me make a joke in an All Things Considered segment on Obama’s signing of a bill with an autopen