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Three Arguments About War, Robert Tsai Dec 2014

Three Arguments About War, Robert Tsai

Robert L Tsai

The rise of the United States as a military power capable of mounting global warfare and subduing domestic rebellions has helped produce a corresponding shift in the language of liberal constitutionalism. Arguments invoking war have become prevalent, increasingly creative and far-reaching, and therefore an emerging threat to rule of law values. It is not only legal limits on the capacity to wage war that have been influenced by the ascendance of war-inspired discourse; seemingly unrelated areas of law have also been reshaped by talk of war, from the constitutional rules of criminal procedure to the promise of racial and sexual ...


America's Forgotten Constitutions: Defiant Visions Of Power And Community, Robert Tsai Mar 2014

America's Forgotten Constitutions: Defiant Visions Of Power And Community, Robert Tsai

Robert L Tsai

The U.S. Constitution opens by proclaiming the sovereignty of all citizens: "We the People." Robert Tsai's gripping history of alternative constitutions invites readers into the circle of those who have rejected this ringing assertion--the defiant groups that refused to accept the Constitution's definition of who "the people" are and how their authority should be exercised. America's Forgotten Constitutions is the story of America as told by dissenters: squatters, Native Americans, abolitionists, socialists, internationalists, and racial nationalists. Beginning in the nineteenth century, Tsai chronicles eight episodes in which discontented citizens took the extraordinary step of drafting a ...


"Simple" Takes On The Supreme Court, Robert Tsai Dec 2012

"Simple" Takes On The Supreme Court, Robert Tsai

Robert L Tsai

This essay assesses black literature as a medium for working out popular understandings of America’s Constitution and laws. Starting in the 1940s, Langston Hughes’s fictional character, Jesse B. Semple, began appearing in the prominent black newspaper, the Chicago Defender. The figure affectionately known as “Simple” was undereducated, unsophisticated, and plain spoken - certainly to a fault according to prevailing standards of civility, race relations, and professional attainment. Butthese very traits, along with a gritty experience under Jim Crow, made him not only a sympathetic figure but also an armchair legal theorist. In a series of barroom conversations, Simple ably ...


The Politics Of Hate, Robert Tsai Dec 2011

The Politics Of Hate, Robert Tsai

Robert L Tsai

This is a special issue dedicated to the topic of hate and political discourse. Collectively, the peer-reviewed articles in this volume are concerned with the political aspects of hatred, i.e., psychology, motivations, organization, tactics, and ends. The articles approach the problem from a variety of disciplines, including anthropology, history, law, literature, philosophy, political science, psychology, and sociology. Among the subjects analyzed: group hatred as a heritable trait; hate as an irrational system of thought; Italian fascism's construction of the Communist other; the rise of the English Defence League and its anti-Islam activities; the persistent myth of blood libel ...


Aryans, Gender, And American Politics, Robert Tsai Dec 2010

Aryans, Gender, And American Politics, Robert Tsai

Robert L Tsai

This short essay discusses some of the ways in which the Aryan movement in America activates gendered beliefs for the goal of cultural, legal, and political transformation. It is drawn from "Defiant Designs: America's Forgotten Constitutions" (forthcoming, Harvard, 2012)


The Ethics Of Melancholy Citizenship, Robert L. Tsai May 2010

The Ethics Of Melancholy Citizenship, Robert L. Tsai

Robert L Tsai

As a body of work, the poetry of Langston Hughes presents a vision of how members of a political community ought to comport themselves, particularly when politics yield few tangible solutions to their problems. Confronted with human degradation and bitter disappointment, the best course of action may be to abide by the ethics of melancholy citizenship. A mournful disposition is associated with four democratic virtues: candor, pensiveness, fortitude, and self-abnegation. Together, these four characteristics lead us away from democratic heartbreak and toward renewal. Hughes’s war-themed poems offer a richly layered example of melancholy ethics in action. They reveal how ...


Book Review Of Beau Breslin, "From Words To Worlds: Exploring Constitutional Functionality", Robert Tsai Dec 2009

Book Review Of Beau Breslin, "From Words To Worlds: Exploring Constitutional Functionality", Robert Tsai

Robert L Tsai

This is a review of Beau Breslin's book, "From Words to Worlds: Exploring Constitutional Functionality" (Johns Hopkins, 2009). As an antidote to what he believes to be scholarly marginalization of the "unique" aspects of a written constitution, Breslin focuses attention on seven functions of such a legal text: transforming existing orders, conveying collective aspirations, designing institutions, mediating conflict, recognizing claims of subnational communities, empowering social actors, and constraining governmental authority. This review briefly critiques Breslin's functional approach and discusses two of the more pressing goals of modern constitutionalism: managing social conflict and preserving cultural heritage.


John Brown's Constitution, Robert Tsai Dec 2009

John Brown's Constitution, Robert Tsai

Robert L Tsai

It will surprise many Americans to learn that before John Brown and his men briefly captured Harper’s Ferry, they authored and ratified a Provisional Constitution. This deliberative act built upon the achievements of the group to establish a Free Kansas, during which time Brown penned an analogue to the Declaration of Independence. These acts of writing, coupled with Brown’s trial tactics after his arrest, cast doubts on claims that the man was a lunatic or on a suicide mission. Instead, they suggest that John Brown aimed to be a radical statesman, one who turned to extreme tactics but ...


Constitutional Borrowing, Nelson Tebbe, Robert Tsai Dec 2008

Constitutional Borrowing, Nelson Tebbe, Robert Tsai

Robert L Tsai

Borrowing from one domain to promote ideas in another domain is a staple of constitutional decisionmaking. Precedents, arguments, concepts, tropes, and heuristics all can be carried across doctrinal boundaries for purposes of persuasion. Yet the practice itself remains surprisingly underanalyzed. This Article seeks to bring greater theoretical attention to the matter. It defines what constitutional borrowing is and what it is not, presents a typology that describes its common forms, undertakes a principled defense of cross-pollination, and identifies some of the risks involved. We invite readers to think of borrowing as something that happens not only during the drafting of ...


Reconsidering Gobitis: An Exercise In Presidential Leadership, Robert L. Tsai Nov 2008

Reconsidering Gobitis: An Exercise In Presidential Leadership, Robert L. Tsai

Robert L Tsai

In June of 1940, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in Minersville School District v. Gobitis that the First Amendment posed no barrier to the punishment of two school age Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused to pay homage to the American flag. Three years later, the Justices reversed themselves in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. This sudden change has prompted a host of explanations. Some observers have stressed changes in judicial personnel in the intervening years; others have pointed to the wax and wane of general anxieties over the war; still others have emphasized the sympathy-inspiring acts of ...


Eloquence And Reason: Creating A First Amendment Culture, Robert L. Tsai Oct 2008

Eloquence And Reason: Creating A First Amendment Culture, Robert L. Tsai

Robert L Tsai

This book presents a general theory to explain how the words in the Constitution become culturally salient ideas, inscribed in the habits and outlooks of ordinary Americans. "Eloquence and Reason" employs the First Amendment as a case study to illustrate that liberty is achieved through the formation of a common language and a set of organizing beliefs. The book explicates the structure of First Amendment language as a distinctive discourse and illustrates how activists, lawyers, and even presidents help to sustain our First Amendment belief system. When significant changes to constitutional law occur, they are best understood as the results ...


Democracy's Handmaid, Robert Tsai Jan 2006

Democracy's Handmaid, Robert Tsai

Robert L Tsai

Democratic theory presupposes open channels of dialogue, but focuses almost exclusively on matters of institutional design writ large. The philosophy of language explicates linguistic infrastructure, but often avoids exploring the political significance of its findings. In this Article, Professor Tsai draws from the two disciplines to reach new insights about the democracy-enhancing qualities of popular constitutional language. Employing examples from the founding era, the struggle for black civil rights, the religious awakening of the last two decades, and the search for gay equality, he presents a model of constitutional dialogue that emphasizes common modalities and mobilized vernacular. According to this ...


The System Worked: Our Schizophrenic Stance On Welfare, Robert Tsai Dec 1995

The System Worked: Our Schizophrenic Stance On Welfare, Robert Tsai

Robert L Tsai

This is a review of Steven M. Teles's book, Whose Welfare? AFDC and Elite Politics (University Press of Kansas, 1996), which argues that welfare policy reflects a dynamic of elite dissensus, in which public policy fails to reflect popular opinion. I make two central points in the review: first, there are reasons to believe that welfare policy does, in fact, reflect a deeply conflicted American electorate; and second, such a conflict may reveal a healthy deliberative order struggling to reconcile changing priorities with enduring values.