Article Title

The Canon Has a History


Richard Primus


Legal Canons, J. M. Balkin & Sanford Levinson, eds. New York: New York University Press, 2000. Pp. xi, 443. $50.00.

Legal Canons, edited by J. M. Balkin and Sanford Levinson, is a collection of fourteen essays on subjects related to canonicity in law and legal education. Balkin and Levinson have two principal aims. One is to expand the category of things that can be canonical: not just texts, they say, but also arguments, problems, narrative frameworks, and examples invoked in conversation or teaching. In their view, what makes something canonical is its ability to reproduce itself in the minds of successive generations. If generation after generation of legal academics argues about the countermajoritarian difficulty, then the countermajoritarian difficulty is a canonical problem, and the argumentative moves that are made from generation to generation - assuming they are common from one to the next-are canonical arguments. Balkin and Levinson's second aim is to argue for a more practical kind of expansion, specifically the expansion of the canon that defines what is taught to introductory students of constitutional law. According to the editors, the present pedagogic canon is too focused on a few clauses of the Constitution and on opinions of the United States Supreme Court. They urge more attention to the development of American constitutionalism outside the courtroom. Balkin and Levinson's view of constitutional development is historically oriented and radically democratic: they wish the canon to include materials that will show how all Americans, not just judges or even officeholders, have affected the meaning of the Constitution.