Cover for DENVIR: Democracy's Constitution: Claiming the Privileges of American Citizenship. Click for larger image

Democracy's Constitution

Claiming the Privileges of American Citizenship

An examination of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and uncovers the social rights that are implicit, but have been overlooked--and how a new interpretation could work to foster a more democratic nation.

Do the unemployment and undereducation of millions of Americans raise issues of constitutional significance?

In this provocative reassessment of constitutional intent, John Denvir investigates the "privileges or immunities" of U.S. citizenship and considers how they should be understood in the twenty-first century. He asserts that the Fourteenth Amendment implicitly protects certain social rights essential to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These privileges of national citizenship, in his view, include the opportunity to earn a decent living, the right to a first-rate education, the right to a voice that is heard, and the right to a vote that counts.

Denvir discusses how key U.S. Supreme Court decisions bear on the realization of democracy in America and how a new interpretation of the privileges or immunities clause could give the Constitution a more democratic cast, one more consistent with the basic moral premise of the Declaration of Independence. Advocating reforms in funding for education and campaign financing, as well as large-scale government work programs, he indicates how full implementation of the political rights of free speech and the vote could facilitate the implementation of the social rights to work and education.

By uncovering the social rights implicit in the Fourteenth Amendment and the U.S. constitutional tradition, Democracy's Constitution reaffirms the principles that distinguish the United States as a political and legal culture. Its recommendations aim to make the participation of ordinary citizens in their democracy more effective and their pursuit of happiness more feasible.


"A fascinating . . . work urging the courts to give the Fourteenth Amendment's privileges and immunities clause real meaning. . . . This short, highly readable book makes cogent arguments for the protection of these rights and the revival of the privileges and immunities clause." -- Choice

"An inspiring example of how one might achieve political and intellectual self-actualization within the constitutional law discourse." -- David Ray Papke, Indiana Law Review

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