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Understanding State Constitutions
G. Alan Tarr

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 1999

Paperback | 2000 | $38.95 | ($23.37) / £26.95 | (£16.17) | ISBN: 9780691070667
264 pp. | 6 x 9 | 3 tables, 1 line illus.
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For many Americans, the word "constitution" means just one thing: the national Constitution. According to a recent survey, almost half do not know that individual states also have constitutions. Scholars have also paid little attention to state constitutions, favoring the apparently more dynamic and significant federal scene. G. Alan Tarr seeks to change that in this landmark book. A leading authority on state legal issues, he combines history, law, and political science to present a thorough and long-needed account of the distinct and important role of state constitutions in American life.

Tarr shows that state constitutional politics are dominated by three crucial issues with little salience at the national level: the distribution of power among groups and regions within states, the scope of state and local governmental authority, and the relation of the state to economic activity. He explains how state constitutions differ from the national Constitution in treating not only matters of high principle but also such mundane subjects as ski trails and motor vehicle revenues. He also explores why state constitutions, unlike their federal counterpart, have been so frequently amended and replaced. Tarr concludes that the United States not only has a system of dual constitutionalism but also has dual constitutional cultures.

Powerfully argued and meticulously researched, the book fills an important gap in political and legal studies and finally gives state constitutions the scholarly attention they richly deserve.


"Essential reading to those interested in state constitutionalism, but more ambitiously it also serves as an introduction and invitation to those who may not have paid adequate attention to the states. . . . It offers an excellent starting place. . . . The book should be at the center of a revival of interest in federalism and the states."--Keith E. Whittington, The Law and Politics Book Review

"A much-needed, concise book that fills the vacuum created by a scholarly focus on the federal Constitution. . . . [The book] provides extensive information for scholars who choose to follow Tarr's lead."--Barry Pyle, Perspectives on Political Science

"[Tarr] successfully reviews constitutional development in all 50 states--a daunting task considering that most states have had a number of constitutions. . . . This examination is a must read for students of state politics and policy."--Choice

Table of Contents:

Ch. 1The Distinctiveness of State Constitutionalism6
Ch. 2Explaining State Constitutional Development29
Ch. 3Eighteenth-Century State Constitutionalism60
Ch. 4Nineteenth-Century State Constitutionalism94
Ch. 5Twentieth-Century State Constitutionalism136
Ch. 6State Constitutional Interpretation173

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File created: 11/20/2015

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