Over at the New York Review of Books, Justice Stevens writes an interesting review of Sandy Levinson’s new book Framed. Stevens writes a balanced review, but he disagrees with Sandy’s recommendation in favor of a constitutional convention.
Interestingly, Stevens also disagrees with Sandy’s attack on the compromises that produced the Constitution — compromises that allowed slavery to continue and permitted an equality of state power in the Senate. Stevens writes:
But Levinson’s evaluation of the great compromises essentially ignores the fact that the failure to reach an agreement would have preserved the Articles of Confederation, which required unanimous agreement to implement any change that might impair the sovereignty of any state. . .
Although Levinson’s book contains a lucid and accurate description of the costs incurred by the Framers’ “great compromises,” his discussion omits an adequate consideration of the nature of the quid pro quo—specifically, of what benefits were obtained in return. Those benefits included the development of a flourishing national market where free competition replaced multiple restraints of trade in thirteen balkanized local markets. The contrast between the Framers’ prompt creation of a flourishing common market and the years that went by before such a market arrived in Europe should not be ignored.Nor should we ignore the importance of the replacement of each state’s absolute veto over certain federal actions with a bicameral legislature that has the power to take action in the national interest, if majorities in both houses agree.
I have made similar arguments myself about the compromise that led to the Constitution.