Constitutional Expectations

24 Pages Posted: 3 Nov 2009 Last revised: 10 Jun 2010

See all articles by Richard Primus

Richard Primus

University of Michigan Law School

Date Written: June 1, 2010


The public botching of the Inaugural Oath at the inauguration of President Barack Obama was generally understood as an illustration of the importance of textual exactitude in the culture of American constitutional law. Upon closer consideration, however, the episode actually reveals that something else - something we can call “constitutional expectations” - is often more important than the Constitution's text. This essay uses the inaugural oath affair to explain the phenomenon of constitutional expectations in constitutional law generally. It then uses the category of constitutional expectations to analyze a question now pending before Congress: whether the District of Columbia may elect a voting member of the House of Representatives. The conventional view is that the text of the Constitution prohibits such representation for the District, but an analysis based on constitutional expectations shows the limits of that textual obstacle.

Keywords: Constitutional Law, Constitutional Interpretation

Suggested Citation

Primus, Richard, Constitutional Expectations (June 1, 2010). U of Michigan Public Law Working Paper No. 173, Michigan Law Review, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

Richard Primus (Contact Author)

University of Michigan Law School ( email )

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Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1215
United States
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