Constitutional Virtues

The Annual Walter F. Murphy Lecture in American Constitutionalism

April 24, 2006

H. Jefferson Powell, Duke University

The Constitution of the United States claims the authority of the People, but there is no obvious sense in which that claim is true, argues Professor Powell. American political practices, centrally but not exclusively including respect for judicial review, presuppose the authority of constitutional rules and decisions. In the absence of a persuasive account of the source of that authority, our practices make no sense. In this lecture, Professor Powell proposes a partial answer to the need for such an account. The Constitution demands of Americans, as individuals and as a political community, that they assume or enact a certain moral character if they are to treat it as their supreme law. If, and only if, we find that moral character admirable and worthy of our aspirations, can the Constitution enjoy genuine authority. Professor Powell argues that the Constitution summons us to act above our collective and individual inclinations; for him, therefore, the Constitution has authority.

This very special annual lecture celebrates the work of the late Walter F. Murphy, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence Emeritus, Princeton University, and his dedication to excellence in the study of American and comparative constitutional law theory.  A decade after joining the Princeton faculty, Professor Murphy was named the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, succeeding Woodrow Wilson, Edward S. Corwin, and Alpheus T. Mason in one of the Nation's most prestigious Chairs. 


Computer Science 104