Works in Progress

Below you will find the title, abstract, and (where available) linked drafts for the projects I’m currently working on. Feel free to contact me with any questions about the status of these papers or inquiries about citation.

  • “From Predicate to Object: Constitutionalizing Sovereignty in the American Order”: Sovereignty has been labeled everything from an essentially contested concept to an essentially useless concept, appearing as both the star and the villain in political theorizing stretching from Jean Bodin to Anthony Kennedy. Today popular sovereignty—the ultimate and meaningful authority of the people—occupies a privileged position in political theory, discourse, and aspiration. However, by understanding sovereignty as principally a precondition or foundation for political organization, much legal and political theory has overlooked the most consequential implications of the constitutionalization of sovereignty and, for that reason, of American constitutionalism. In this essay, I argue that the American Constitution transformed sovereignty from the predicate of political order to an object of political contestation. Such an understanding requires that sovereignty be understood dynamically, as both a precondition and a product of constitutionally-structured politics. This essay thus locates American constitutionalism in the history of theorizing about sovereignty while reorienting the debate about sovereignty’s meaning around the political contestation it simultaneously gives shape to and is shaped by.
  • Federalist 39 as a (Messy) Model of Constitutional Development”: Of all Publius’s essays, Federalist No. 39 is often taken to present the clearest expression of the kind of Constitution proposed for ratification: one that is “neither a national nor a federal Constitution, but a composition of both.” In this essay, Madison outlines several dimensions of the proposed regime, identifying elements that are federal in character and others that are national in character. For many students of American constitutionalism, No. 39 has been understood as outlining a complex form of government, one that balances elements that incorporate both state and national power. As a result, this essay has been used as a standard against which constitutional governance can be evaluated. This understanding, though, assumes that the regime Madison described is static—that it does not develop in ways that affect or prioritize the defining elements Madison addresses. This essay complicates that interpretation by connecting the account of the constitutional regime Madison provides to the operational logics of the Constitution, some of which are developed elsewhere in The Federalist. Thus understood, the Constitution establishes a compound republic that anticipates constitutional development, and Madison’s account identifies potential avenues along which this development may proceed.
  • “Dignity and America’s Multiple Constitutional Traditions”: Underpinning the United States Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, finding a constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry, was a jurisprudence of “equal dignity.” Developed over the previous three decades, this body of law defined and interwove multiple threads of dignitarian reasoning. Remarkably, though, during this period the emphasis by successive majorities on dignity went largely unchallenged by the Court’s dissenters. That is, until Obergefell, which featured multiple opinions contesting both the majority’s use of dignity and its putative place in American constitutional law. Just as significant, these dissents sought to reclaim rather than reject the language of dignity, tracing a very different story through American law and history than that offered by Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion. Using this disagreement as a point of departure, this paper argues that dignity serves as a lens–at once revelatory and obscuring–through which the American constitutional tradition is rendered comprehensible. But far from speaking univocally, dignity supports multiple constitutional traditions that exist in considerable tension with one another. After constructing these divergent constitutional traditions, I argue that the contours of these constitutional visions bear heavily on dignity’s future as a jurisprudential touchstone, pointing towards futures as different as the pasts they depict.