Constitutional Law and Rhetoric

34 Pages Posted: 16 Aug 2014 Last revised: 20 Oct 2016

See all articles by Colin P. Starger

Colin P. Starger

University of Baltimore - School of Law

Date Written: February 15, 2015


What are the legitimate types of argument in constitutional debate? This is a perennial question in American law and every generation of constitutional scholars has the right to ask it anew. For over thirty years, Phillip Bobbitt’s taxonomy of legitimate constitutional argument types has reigned as the most influential and enduring in the scholarly discourse. In a recent article, Jamal Greene has proposed a welcome but flawed rhetorical re-conception of Bobbitt’s venerable typology. By identifying and correcting the errors in Greene’s framework, this Article provides a rigorous theoretical grounding for the entire constitutional law and rhetoric project.

When properly grounded, constitutional law and rhetoric reveals how proof and persuasion operate in constitutional argument. The rhetorical perspective recognizes that our deepest constitutional disputes turn on value argument. Acknowledging value argument as a legitimate part of constitutional discourse in turn promotes rational discussion of the hard choices inherent in the Court’s most vexing cases. A fully developed constitutional law and rhetoric framework thus helps us assess these vexing cases and confront what we really fight about when we fight about the Constitution.

Keywords: constitutional adjudication, argument theory, value argument, Bobbitt taxonomy, modality, logos, ethos, pathos

Suggested Citation

Starger, Colin P., Constitutional Law and Rhetoric (February 15, 2015). 18 U. Pa. J. Const. L 1347, May 2016; University of Baltimore School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2016-02. Available at SSRN: or

Colin P. Starger (Contact Author)

University of Baltimore - School of Law ( email )

1420 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21218
United States

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