The Brennan Lecture

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State Constitutional Amendments & American Constitutionalism
5:30 p.m., OCU Law
Theatre Room (#509)
800 N. Harvey Avenue

Background

John Dinan is professor of politics and international affairs at Wake Forest University.  His research focuses on state constitutionalism and federalism.  His published books include The American State Constitutional Tradition, The Virginia State Constitution, and Keeping the People’s Liberties: Legislators, Citizens, and Judges as Guardians of Rights.  He has written a number of articles on historical and contemporary features of state constitutions and is responsible for preparing an annual review of state constitutional developments for The Book of the States.  He is the current editor of Publius: The Journal of Federalism and a past chair of the Federalism and Intergovernmental Relations Section of the American Political Science Association.  He received his PhD from the University of Virginia.

click here for more about Professor Dinan

Lecture Themes & Topics

Dinan’s lecture will focus on the role of state constitutional amendments in bringing about constitutional change in the 50 states.  Although analyses of the U.S. Constitution tend to focus on U.S. Supreme Court decisions, which have been responsible for a number of constitutional developments and generally offer the final word on constitutional questions at the federal level, the situation is quite different regarding state constitutions.  In the states, constitutional changes are often achieved through passage of constitutional amendments rather than court rulings, and court decisions seeking to bring about changes are often susceptible to reversal via the constitutional amendment process.

The lecture will address the following topics concerning the importance of state constitutional amendments:

  • Explaining why constitutional amendments play such a prominent role in the development of state constitutions, in contrast with their relatively modest role in development of the U.S. Constitution.
  • Examining various ways state constitutional amendments have been responsible in recent decades for changes in understandings of individual rights and principles, at times by overturning state supreme court rulings.
  • Assessing the consequences of the prominent reliance on constitutional amendments in the states and exploring the advantages and disadvantages of the distinct approaches to constitutionalism at the state and federal levels.