The Public Interest

The Letter of the Law or the Spirit of the Law?

Terry Eastland

Summer 1991

HADLEY ARKES’S previous book, First Things, published in 1986, was an impressive articulation and defense of moral philosophy and what would now be called traditional morality.  Now Arkes, who teaches at Amherst College, focuses specifically on jurisprudence. Arkes’s overriding concern is how judges should interpret and apply the Constitution as they decide constitutional cases. He argues that the Constitution can be understood and justified only in moral terms found in “standards of natural right that existed antecedent to the Constitution.” Jurists, he says, cannot understand the Constitution apart from those moral premises.  Drawing upon these premises in constitutional cases is what it means to go “beyond the Constitution.” Ultimately, for Arkes, the discipline of jurisprudence is “the discipline of moral reasoning.”

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