Assessing the State of the State Constitutionalism

Robert Williams’s The Law of American State Constitutions is an impressive career accomplishment for one of the leading academic lawyers writing on state constitutions. Given the need for a comprehensive, treatise-like treatment of state constitutions that transcends individual jurisdictions, Williams’s book will almost certainly become the go-to treatise for the next generation of state constitutional law practitioners and scholars. The U.S. Constitution has a grip on how the American legal mind approaches issues in American constitutionalism, but an important recurring theme in Williams’s work (as well as that of others) is how state constitutions present unique interpretive challenges. More than any other legal academic, Williams has advanced the view-in this book and elsewhere-that the unique nature of state constitutions requires an appreciation of the text, legal community, and interpretive norms of the specific jurisdiction engaging in the interpretation. State constitutions are very important legal documents, but their interpretation is remarkably understudied (and, of course, highly undertheorized) in the academic literature. Williams’s descriptive account of state constitutions is very informative and lawyerly; his book fills a notable void to the extent it synthesizes many important features and doctrines of state constitutional law, grounding them in historical context. It is the most significant account of modern state constitutions to date, and his book exhaustively surveys a wide range of the issues state courts have struggled with in interpreting their constitutions.