About This Guide

The Heritage Guide to the Constitution

About This Guide

The Heritage Guide to the Constitution is intended to provide a brief and accurate explanation of each clause of the Constitution as envisioned by the Framers and as applied in contemporary law. Its particular aim is to provide lawmakers with a means to defend their role and to fulfill their responsibilities in our constitutional order. Yet while the Guide will provide a reliable reference for lawmakers and policy-makers, and be especially useful for the trained jurist, it is written to be explanatory and educational, accessible and helpful for informed citizens and students of the Constitution generally.

To create such a unique line-by-line analysis of our supreme law, we set about finding an expert to write on each clause identified in the Constitution, from the Preamble to the Twenty-seventh Amendment. Each contributor was asked to write a brief essay on a particular clause, with two objectives. First, provide a description of the original understanding of the clause, as far as it can be determined. If within the standard of original understanding there are credible and differing interpretations, they were to be noted and explained. (The concept of “originalism” is discussed in the introductory essay, “The Originalist Perspective.”) Second, the article was to provide an explanation of the current state of the law regarding the clause and, where appropriate, to give brief explanations of the historical development of current doctrine.

At the end of each essay, the authors have added cross-references to other clauses in the Constitution, suggestions for further research, and a listing of significant cases concerning that clause. (A complete index of cases referenced throughout the Guide is provided in Appendix A.)

In addition to the text of the Constitution itself, and as reflected by extensive references throughout the Guide, we have taken three widely recognized sources to be especially authoritative in this project. First, The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, the definitive collection of the records and debates of the Constitutional Convention, written by participants of the Convention, including in particular the extensive notes taken by James Madison. Second, The Federalist Papers, the great series of essays written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison in 1787 and 1788 to defend the Constitution during the debates over the document's ratification. And third, Joseph Story's Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, a classic and substantive work on the meaning of the U.S. Constitution, written in 1833 by one of its best scholars and one of the greatest justices of the Supreme Court.


In the long process of creating this book, innumerable individuals deserve acknowledgment for their ideas, comments, and substantive contributions. The project began in conversations with then Heritage Vice President Adam Meyerson, and continued under the steady guidance of Edwin Meese III, the Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow in Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation. Mr. Meese acted as the Chairman of this project's Editorial Advisory Board, which included four distinguished scholars who read and commented on the essay's as they were being produced and edited: Jim Bond of Seattle University School of Law, Gary Lawson of Boston University School of Law, John O. McGinnis of Northwestern University School of Law, and Ronald Rotunda of George Mason University School of Law.

Charissa Kersten was invaluable as Assistant Executive Editor for the project, tracking essays through the process, checking case citations, and generally keeping a very complicated project organized. Lien O'Neill fulfilled this role in the initial phase of the project, and Carolyn Garris assisted in its final stages. We are especially thankful to Todd Gaziano, Paul Rosenzweig, and Trent England of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation who, in addition to contributing to the work, provided recommendations, counsel, and support throughout.

The publishing group at The Heritage Foundation, under the direction of Jonathan Larsen, was crucial to developing and producing the final work, beginning in its early iterations with Daryl Malloy, and then with our indefatigable Production Editor Therese Pennefather, along with the help of Senior Desktop Publishing Specialist Alex Adrianson, and Graphic Designer Carolyn Belefski.

Heritage's Vice President for Communications and Marketing, Rebecca Hagelin, also played a vital role in the publication of the Guide. Her marketing insights and leadership were invaluable to this project.

Throughout, we have used The Chicago Manual of Style and The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citations as style guides. For the text of the Constitution, we used the National Archives' transcription of the document in its original form. Each essay herein represents the views of its author or authors and does not represent the views of any government entity.

A succession of talented student researchers has supported the project while interning at The Heritage Foundation: David Barnes of Yale University, Mary Elizabeth Davis of Messiah College, David Derksen of Carleton College, Rachel Hanson of Trinity University, Jana Hardy of Claremont McKenna College, Tim Holbert of Miami University of Ohio, Audrey Jones of Patrick Henry College, Joseph Lindsley of Notre Dame University, Rebeccah Ramey of Ashland University, Stephen Roberts of Calvin College, Lydia Sullivan of Loyola University (Chicago), and Claire Wendt of Pepperdine University.

Several researchers also supported the project, working with Dr. Forte at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law: Catherine Bozell, Max Dehn, Otto Elkins, John Friedmann, Siegmund Fuchs, Sara Govrik, Krista Kaleps, Sara Menefee, Terrell Menefee, Susan Owens, Joseph Patituce, Stephen Tylman, and Steven Vargo.

On several occasions a number of scholars, some of whom are also contributors, were consulted as advisors or as outside readers on particular essays: Herman Belz (The University of Maryland), Roger Clegg (Center for Equal Opportunity), Stephen J. Darmody (Shook, Hardy & Bacon, L.L.P.), Steven J. Eagle (George Mason University School of Law), John Eastman (Chapman University School of Law), Joel Finer (Cleveland-Marshall College of Law), Rick Garnett (Notre Dame School of Law), Deborah Geier (Cleveland-Marshall College of Law), Arthur Hellman (University of Pittsburgh School of Law), Nelson Lund (George Mason School of Law), Phillip Muñoz (Tufts University), Kevin O'Neill (Cleveland-Marshall College of Law), Stephen Safranek (Ave Maria School of Law), Steven Steinglass (Cleveland-Marshall College of Law), Adam Thurschwald (Cleveland-Marshall College of Law), and Seth Tillman (Clerk, United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit).

The Heritage Guide to the Constitution was made possible by two self-made entrepreneurs and generous philanthropists. Born in Italy, Henry Salvatori founded the Western Geophysical Company, one of the most successful oil-exploration and contracting enterprises in the world. B. Kenneth Simon was a marine during the Second World War before founding and building a thriving business called All-Pak to distribute, design, and contract the manufacture of packaging materials. Later in life, both dedicated their time and considerable fortunes to strengthening the underpinnings of American liberty and constitutionalism. That dedication continues because of endowments they created at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Editors

Edwin Meese III, Chairman of the Editorial Advisory Board, served as the 75th Attorney General of the United States. Meese is a graduate of Yale University and holds a law degree from the University of California at Berkeley. He is a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a Distinguished Senior Fellow at The University of London’s Institute of United States Studies, and currently holds the Ronald Reagan Chair in Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation.

Matthew Spalding, Executive Editor, is the Vice President for American Studies and Director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics. Spalding is a graduate of Claremont McKenna College, holds a Ph.D. from The Claremont Graduate School, and has taught at George Mason University, the Catholic University of America, Claremont McKenna College, and Hillsdale College. An Adjunct Fellow of the Claremont Institute, he is co-author of A Sacred Union of Citizens: Washington’s Farewell Address and the American Character, and the editor of The Founders’ Almanac: A Practical Guide to the Notable Events, Greatest Leaders & Most Eloquent Words of the American Founding.

David F. Forte, Senior Editor, is the Charles R. Emrick, Jr.-Calfee Halter & Griswold Professor of Law at Cleveland State University. Forte is a graduate of Harvard College, and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto and a law degree from Columbia University. A former Chief Counsel to the United States Delegation to the United Nations, and a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow, Forte writes and lectures on a wide range of topics, including international law, constitutional law, natural law, and jurisprudence.

Editorial Advisory Board


Edwin Meese III, Chairman
Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow in Public Policy
The Heritage Foundation



James Bond
Professor Emeritus
Seattle University School of Law



Gary Lawson
Professor of Law
Boston University School of Law



John McGinnis
Class of 1940 Research Professor of Law
Northwestern University School of Law



Ronald Rotunda
George Mason University Foundation Professor of Law
George Mason University School of Law


Teaching Companion


Julia Shaw, Managing Editor
Research Associate and Program Manager
B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics
The Heritage Foundation



Sonya Haskins, Contributing Editor
Author of The Homeschooler’s Book of Lists



Matthew Spalding, Contributing Editor
Vice President, American Studies
Director, B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics
The Heritage Foundation