Toward a Reality-Based Constitutional Theory

15 Pages Posted: 10 Apr 2011 Last revised: 18 Feb 2014

See all articles by Andrew Coan

Andrew Coan

University of Arizona, James E. Rogers College of Law

Date Written: April 7, 2011


Despite the alleged triumph of legal realism and the empirical turn of closely related fields such as judicial behavior, a startling number of constitutional theorists continue to approach their work as a purely conceptual enterprise. This is particularly true of originalists, but it is true of many others as well. Indeed, much of normative constitutional theory as it is presently practiced resembles a recreational debating society more than a serious effort to improve the functioning of a massively complex modern society. If constitutional theory is to live up to its aspirations, a new reality-based approach is urgently needed. This brief essay makes the case for such an approach and offers practical suggestions for getting it off the ground.

Keywords: Constitutional Theory, Originalism, Popular Constitutionalism, Political Science, Empirical

Suggested Citation

Coan, Andrew, Toward a Reality-Based Constitutional Theory (April 7, 2011). 89 Washington University Law Review 273, University of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1156, Available at SSRN:

Andrew Coan (Contact Author)

University of Arizona, James E. Rogers College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 210176
Tucson, AZ 85721-0176
United States

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