My research concerns constitutionalism, the idea that constitutions limit the powers of democratic governments and constrain the choices available to majoritarian decision making. I believe that effective examination of constitutionalism requires scholars to link the methods and findings of political theory, legal theory, normative jurisprudence, and empirical political science. In my research, I apply the methods of political theory (normative, conceptual, and historical analysis) to questions that arise from legal practice. Issues such as freedom of speech, the role of religion in American political life, and civil rights are too important to be left solely to academic lawyers working within the confines of constitutional doctrine. Even though legal academics have begun to pay far more attention to the contributions of other disciplines than they once did, I believe that all of the diverse methods of political science are important to understanding what are too often cast as predominately legal questions. The rigorous application of the analytic methods of political theory to legal concepts helps to clarify the meaning of these concepts and investigate their role in the kinds of political controversies that arise in the arena of legal disputes. I make an effort in my choice of research projects and in my written contributions to the discipline of political science to engage with both academic questions and important controversies in contemporary political debates.
It is important that we emphasize the role of political science, and scholarly concern with politics as a subject of inquiry, in the vital questions of the meaning and consequences of constitutionalism in American political life. Political science as a discipline has long been concerned with questions like the legitimacy of state power and the distribution of rights, benefits and social goods. Constitutionalism, and the myriad political influences on constitutional interpretation and legal outcomes are a vital part of this inquiry. Many of the most important controversies in American politics today – executive power, federalism, free speech, religion, abortion rights, and privacy – all implicate key constitutional questions. Like a number of other political scientists, I do not believe that these questions can be comprehensively understood by legal analysis. Beyond that, it is clear from decades of political science research that state actions and political outcomes relating to constitutionalism simply cannot be explained by reference to legal doctrines alone.
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