This essay explains the methodology for the current edition of the Constitution of the United States: Analysis and Interpretation (commonly known as the
Constitution Annotated)—that is, the rules and principles that dictate the organization and construction of the document. Consistent with the mission of the Library of Congress and, more specifically, the Congressional Research Service,1 the Constitution Annotated seeks to provide an objective, comprehensive, authoritative, and accessible treatment of one of the most—if not the most—contentious legal issues in modern American society: how to read and interpret the Constitution. As the only constitutional law treatise2 formally authorized by federal law,3 the Constitution Annotated functions as the official Constitution of record, describing how the Constitution has been construed by the Supreme Court and other authoritative constitutional actors since the drafting and ratification of the nation's founding document. In particular, the Constitution Annotated provides annotations4 addressing the historical origins and interpretation of each article and amendment of the Constitution.
Producing such a treatise is a daunting task. While the Constitution and its current amendments contain a little more than 7,500 words,5 a seemingly endless stream of commentaries has attempted to explain the document's meaning and reach. The various sources discussing the Constitution provide a vast array of modern interpretations of the Constitution—and an immense challenge to any attempt to synthesize these sources in a single treatise. A further challenge is that expositions of the Constitution, like other legal works, can be inaccessible to many readers because they are intended for a narrow audience of attorneys specializing in
constitutional law—that is, the body of principles and rules derived from the Constitution.6 Also, perhaps because American constitutional law raises certain fundamental issues that define aspects of the U.S. political system,7 discussions of constitutional law often approach the Constitution with a distinct point of view that may obfuscate, politicize, or simply ignore key issues. In addition, the Constitution Annotated confronts the unique challenge that it is not intended to be a static document; federal law requires that it be updated regularly by attorneys within the Library of Congress's Congressional Research Service.8
With these challenges in mind, this essay seeks to provide a transparent methodology for the drafting of the Constitution Annotated and, in particular, for selecting sources for inclusion in the Constitution Annotated and organizing its content. It is anticipated that this methodology will guide future updates and revisions of the Constitution Annotated, ensuring a consistent approach over time. However, keeping in mind that
foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,9 certain departures from this methodology may be made in certain cases in either the current edition or in future editions.