In Wehle’s How to Read the Constitution and Why, the author provides both a practical and metaphorical approach to interpreting the most important legal document of the United States. Notably, the scholar is not concerned with speaking about modern politics or the latest comments made by the representatives of the office. Instead, she is concerned with the issue of accountability when describing what is taking place in the government, underlying the fact that democracy must be protected.
In the first chapter, Wehle offers an example of a kitchen renovation as a metaphor when speaking about politics. In renovations, in cases when a contractor leaves the job, they can keep the down payment that was paid to them unless a homeowner makes a legal cause out of it and enforces the contract (Wehle 36). The author argues that the Constitution is similar in a way as it contains rules that guide the government, as if it is the country’s contractor, to fulfill its responsibilities. In order for the rules embedded in the Constitution to have meaning, they must be enforced; otherwise, this is just a document, a piece of paper.
The example of Zappos is brought up as the company’s founder has developed and published the Holacracy Constitution, which is a document explaining the fundamental principles and practices of the organizational governance structure (Denning). In the system, authority is meant to be distributed much more efficiently to improve the decision-making process. The author draws parallels with the company’s document and the Constitution to show that every entity requires an improved management process and a system of accountability in decision-making.
Wehle offers a poem called The Snow Man, breaking it down and discussing the different ways a poem could be interpreted. Notably, the author underlines the fact that the point of view of the person analyzing the poem, including what they are trying to achieve by reading the piece, may affect how they read the literary piece. Wehle argues that when it comes to reading and interpreting the Constitution, the same logic applies.
The author’s argument is based on the fact that the Constitution as a document itself is open to interpretation and is never black in white. Therefore, when Supreme Court nominees or presidential candidates call for its strict reading, they fail to understand that the document is not rigid and clear-cut and may evolve and change in time depending on the sociopolitical context. Indeed, the analysis of a poem carried out in the 1950s will be significantly different from the analysis of the same poem, but in modern times – new principles and contexts emerge that will ultimately affect the perspective of the poem’s readers.
When the author brings up Federalist Paper #37, it is most likely a reference to the idea that the Constitution has always been flawed and it should not be viewed as an ideal legal document and is unlikely to become one day. The Constitution has evidence of private opinions and partial interests being sacrificed for the sake of the public good when formulating a proper form of government (“The Federalist Papers: No. 37”). In the paper, the question of authority over the liberty of people is being explored, and there is no perfect form of government, but rather the one upon which the majority of framers decided to agree.
Denning, Steve. “Making Sense of Zappos and Holacracy.” Forbes, Web.
“The Federalist Papers: No. 37.” Yale Law School, Web.
Wehle, Kim. How to Read the Constitution – and Why. Harper Collins, 2019.