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No time for treatises

Harvard constitutional law scholar Laurence Tribe just got a little less busy. In two letters that appear in the spring issue of the the Green Bag a self-described ''entertaining journal of law" (check out their Supreme Court bobbleheads at greenbag.org/eclectica.htm) Tribe announces that he has given up, for the moment, on completing the second volume of the third edition of his classic treatise ''American Constitutional Law." Why? Because, as he puts it, we've entered an epoch of uncertainty that calls for ''new modes of thinking and writing about constitutional law."

According to Tribe, the problem with his ''American Constitutional Law" is one not of content but of form. A treatise, he explains, brings together a large body of work (in this case, judicial decisions relevant to constitutional doctrine) and then synthesizes ''the organizing themes that thereby become apparent." But the only theme these days, he writes, is ''conflict and irresolution." In the past half-century, even critics of such contested decisions as Roe v. Wade were ''in an important sense reading from the same page as the majority." But the fissure in today's Supreme Court over similar hot-button issues reflects a ''seemingly irreconcilable division within legal and popular culture that is not amenable to the treatment that a treatise might hope to give such cases."

But Tribe is hardly throwing in the towel. As he explains in a letter addressed to Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who had apparently asked how the book was coming, ''Happily, many of the same factors that make ours a particularly bad time to be going out on a limb to propound a Grand Unified Theory contribute to a ferment and excitement that make it a good time . . . to be writing about, teaching, briefing and arguing constitutional law all of which I remain enthusiastic about doing."

Laurence Tribe
Laurence Tribe
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