Lawrence Lessig: Fidelity and the American Constitution

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The immense age of our nation’s Constitution presents a fundamental challenge for interpreters. After so much time has passed, how do we read such an old document? Legal scholar Lawrence Lessig arrived at Town Hall to explore one of the most basic approaches to interpreting the Constitution—the process of translation. With insight from his new book Fidelity & Constraint, Lessig contended that some of the most significant shifts in constitutional doctrine are products of the evolution of the translation process over time. He described how judges understand their translations as instances of “interpretive fidelity,” framing their judgements in the context of time. Lessig also highlighted what he calls “fidelity to role,” a practice by which judges determine if old ways of interpreting the Constitution have become illegitimate because they do not match up with the judge’s perceived role. Lessig not only showed us how important the concept of translation is to constitutional interpretation, but also exposed the institutional limits on this practice. Sit in for a course on constitutional and foundational theory by one of America’s leading legal minds.

Lawrence Lessig is the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard Law School. He is the author of many books, including: Code 2.0; Free Culture; Remix; Republic, Lost; and most recently America, Compromised.

Recorded live in The Great Hall at Town Hall Seattle on June 17, 2019.

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