Corwin, Edward S. Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Constitutional law expert Corwin traced the history of due process law and criticized the Supreme Court for creating a twilight zone in which neither state nor federal law applied.

Corwin was the premier constitutionalConstitutional interpretation analyst of his time, shaping much of the terminology and style of American discourse in the field of constitutional history. His major contribution was in typifying the history of due process of law, from procedural to substantive. Most of his key articles on this subject are collected in his Liberty Against Government (1948). Although historians increasingly find use of substantive due processDue process, substantive that predates the Fourteenth Amendment, Corwin’s general view still dominates. Corwin also questioned the Supreme Court’s crippling of national authority and its creation of a twilight zone where neither state nor federal legislation was possible. Corwin, like the Progressives before him, criticized the Court for holding unconstitutional many statutes designed to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public.

Corwin’s other important works include essays on the higher law basis of judicial review and on the federal courts’ use of the doctrine of vested rights in the nineteenth century. He also advanced the study of the presidency, especially concerning war powers and foreign power. His most enduring and popular work was The Constitution and What It Means Today (1920), a clause-by-clause terse summary of constitutional law that, modified and revised, remained in print more than eighty years later. His preeminence was acknowledged in many ways. He was asked to supervise expansion of his 1920 work into a guide for Congress on constitutional law, which was revised and updated many times. He was asked to serve as cochair of an American Bar Association committee to oppose the Bricker Amendment (1953), which aimed to limit the scope of international treaties and the president’s power to negotiate them, and he has by far the largest number of articles of any author in Selected Essays on Constitutional Law, 1938-1962 (1963), collected by the American Association of Law Schools. He was a consultant to the Department of Justice in Carter v. Carter Coal Co. (1936). Recruited by Princeton University president Woodrow Wilson, Corwin taught for his entire career at that institution.

Constitutional law

Due process, procedural

Due process, substantive

Foreign affairs and foreign policy

Presidential powers

War powers

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