Mary Anne Franks


On her book The Cult of the Constitution

Cover Interview of October 30, 2019

In a nutshell

The reverence Americans profess for the Constitution is all too often a selective and self-serving devotion. Constitutional fundamentalists, as I call them, treat the Constitution the way that religious fundamentalists treat sacred scripture: they read only the parts that serve their interests, interpret those parts in self-serving ways, and claim to be faithfully obeying the commands of a higher, noble authority in doing so. Like all cults, the cult of the Constitution makes use of powerful propaganda to justify the unequal distribution of power and privilege. The outsized focus on constitutional rights relating to guns and speech perpetuates the political, economic, and cultural domination of white men rather than serving the interests of “we the people.”

This selective constitutionalism transcends political affiliation. While conservatives dominate the appropriation of the Second Amendment for racist and sexist ends, both conservatives and liberals use the First Amendment to promote free speech ideology that reinforces white male supremacy. The civil libertarian fetishization of the “marketplace” finds its fullest expression in the idealization of the Internet, where guns, speech, money and everything else supposedly circulate freely –but always to the primary benefit of white men above all others.

This book endeavors to take the Constitution seriously, not selectively. It does so by focusing on the Fourteenth Amendment, the keystone of the Constitution. The equal protection clause demands that Americans be treated equally under the law, which includes equal protection of their constitutional rights. To dismantle the cult of the Constitution that has sustained an elitist and antidemocratic system of constitutional protection for more than two hundred years, it is necessary to engage in honest constitutional accounting. We must confront the fact that constitutional rights and resources have overwhelmingly been allocated to the interests of white men, and that the white male monopoly on power is neither natural nor benevolent. To achieve the unfinished project of equality, we must reorient our constitutional attention to the most vulnerable.