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The Aretaic Turn in Constitutional Theory


Lawrence B. Solum


Georgetown University Law Center

March 4, 2004

U San Diego Public Law Research Paper No. 04-03

Abstract:     
The Aretaic Turn in Constitutional Theory argues that an institutional approach to theories of constitutional interpretation ought to be supplemented by explicit focus on the virtues and vices of constitutional adjudicators.

Part I, The Most Dysfunctional Branch, advances the speculative hypothesis that politicization of the judiciary has led the political branches to exclude consideration of virtue from the nomination and confirmation of Supreme Court Justices and to select Justices on the basis of the strength of their commitment to particular positions on particular issues and the fervor of their ideological passions.

Part II, Institutionalism and Constitutional Interpretation, engages Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule's recent essay, "Interpretation and Institutions." Sunstein and Vermeule contend that theories of constitutional interpretation are most fundamentally flawed because of their failure to take an institutional turn, but their supporting arguments lead to a related but quite distinct conclusion. Only a theory of judicial character can supply the diagnosis for the ills that Sunstein and Vermeule identify: constitutional theory must take an aretaic turn.

Part III, Making the Aretaic Turn in Constitutional Theory, sketches an alternative approach to judicial review and constitutional interpretation that is rooted in contemporary virtue ethics. In Part IV, Constitutional Virtues and Vices, this sketch is given flesh and bones in the form of a theory of constitutional virtue and vice. Excellence in constitutional adjudication requires the virtues of judicial courage, judicial temperament, judicial temperance, judicial intelligence, and judicial wisdom (or phronesis). Most importantly, a virtuous constitutional interpreter must have the virtue of justice, which includes as components impartiality, lawfulness, and legal vision.

Part V, The Aretaic Reconstruction of the Institutional Critique, returns to institutionalism as an approach to the theory of constitutional interpretation and argues that institutionalists cannot coherently refrain from making the aretaic turn. The article ends with speculation about the possibility of a path to the restoration of judicial virtue.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 45

Keywords: aretaic, virtue, interpretation, institutionalism, constitution, virtue ethics, virtue jurisprudence

JEL Classification: K00, K10, K40

working papers series


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Date posted: March 5, 2004  

Suggested Citation

Solum, Lawrence B., The Aretaic Turn in Constitutional Theory (March 4, 2004). U San Diego Public Law Research Paper No. 04-03. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=512882 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.512882

Contact Information

Lawrence B. Solum (Contact Author)
Georgetown University Law Center ( email )
600 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States
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