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.
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
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
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
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
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.
Beacon Press (November 1, 2011)
ISBN: 978-080700090-8 (cloth)
ISBGN: 978-080700089-2 (paper)
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