Laurence Tribe
Professor, Harvard Law School; Attorney; Author

Laurence Tribe on The U.S. Constitution

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Tribe talks about the structure of the Constitution and how it relates in a broader sense to the rest of the world.

Laurence Tribe

Lawrence Tribe is an American constitutional scholar and the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at the Harvard Law School. A longstanding proponent of liberal jurisprudence, in 2001 Tribe helped found the American Constitution Society a supposed liberal counterweight to the conservative Federalist Society and was long considered a possible Supreme Court nominee by a Democratic administration. Tribe received his A.B. in math from Harvard in 1962, and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1966. He clerked for Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart from 1967-1968 and became an Assistant Professor of Law at Harvard in 1968, where has taught ever since. A fierce critic of many recent Supreme Court decisions, Tribe has argued over thirty cases before the Court, including the infamous Bush v. Gore in 2000, and is the author of Abortion: The Clash of Absolutes, American Constitutional Law, and co-author of On Reading the Constitution (with Michael Dorf).  He is also a former Professor of President Obama and current supporter.


Question: How does the Constitution inform your sense of the world?

Well I suppose when I think about something like the meaning of the Constitution, I end up thinking about puzzles that relate to the whole structure of . . . of the universe.  I mean let me give you just one example.  I think it’s impossible for a document like the Constitution to be entirely self-contained.  That is to contain all of the rules that you would need to interpret it, to answer all of the questions.  And as I’ve thought about why that’s so, it’s not just a limit of our Constitution.  It’s in the nature of reality.  I mean I see a parallel between … theorem about the impossibility of having a system rich enough to express arithmetic relationships in which you can prove every true theorem; that is he proved quite remarkably that in any system . . . any logical system rich enough to encompass arithmetic, there must be true theorems that cannot be proven.  And the consistency of the system within itself can’t be proven.  The theorem is complicated and didn’t . . .  In a book I’m writing Oxford Press will publish next year called “The Invisible Constitution”, I have a couple of chapters on the relevance of … theorem and the limitations of its relevance.  But the nature of human thought as it’s explored, I think, most brilliantly in Doug Hofstadter’s recent book called “I Am a Strange Loop” is that self-reference is at the very heart of awareness, of consciousness, of the structure of societies and of cultures.  And it’s the circularity of assuming that you can ever have a completely self-contained system that explains the necessary openness of the texture of the Constitution, and also explains the way logical systems work.  I think that’s probably the broadest insight that I’ve had that connects what I’ve learned from working with the Constitution to something very general about . . . about the world.