Constitutional Limits

“Where is that in the Constitution?”

I’ve heard this question about 100 times already this semester.  Knee-deep in my Constitutional Law course, I have the distinct privilege (some say curse) of having Professor Maclin as a teacher.  Professor Maclin runs a tight ship, to say the least.  He is well-known at BU for his intense use of the Socratic method and demanding classroom experience.  For example, on the first day of class, he came in having memorized our faces!  As he made his way around the room, the on-call experience was very not only purposeful and calculated, but intimidating.

Before coming to law school, I had many ideas about my liberties and rights — based on philosophy, sociology, public policy, and personal experience.  Professor Maclin doesn’t care about any of these.  In class, we are constantly hard-pressed to find a constitutional basis for our stances.  It isn’t enough that you read 1984 at some point in your life and enjoy the rhetoric of “slippery slope” in justifying your fear of an intrusive government.  This will not do.  Maclin wants us to think like lawyers, and he makes this perfectly clear in class.

The challenge of Maclin’s class hits especially hard when you discover many of your beliefs on justice and equality may not be as fundamental to American law as you once believed.  During our coverage of abortion jurisprudence, for example, many in the “freedom of choice” camp were displeased to find that a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy has been preserved on a weak constitutional basis.  Because Roe and its progeny were based on the right to privacy — a right not explicitly granted by the Constitution, as Maclin made very clear to us — my classmates and I were forced to find new arguments.  Using the equal protection clause and the 13th Amendment, we tried to justify our position on the matter, but it was not easy.

As we move forward in the course, the frustrations of working within the confines of a pocket-size document will surely motivate students to think critically about legal issues.  And, as we grow accustomed to Maclin’s on-call experience, we will undoubtedly make better legal arguments.  Because the next time he asks, “Where is that in the Constitution?” we hope to have an answer.

One Comment

Janet posted on February 28, 2011 at 11:00 am

Your blog makes me think about the current argument about the constitutionality of the Obama Health care and the challenges against it in court now. Well written, and thought provoking!