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Constitutional "vibe"

Constitutions and film are rarely mentioned in the same sentence. As far as I know, no watchable film has been made of even the celebrated summer of 1787 in Philadelphia ("Long Hot Summer II" anyone?). Nevertheless, when Dennis Davis, the well known South African judge and constitutional scholar, recommends a film in the genre you sit up and take notice.

At a splendid conference convened by my colleague Sandy Levinson last weekend, Davis recounted a scene from "The Castle," the 1997 Australian film in which a Melbourne family loses its home to eminent domain and fights the case all the way to the high court. In that scene the family's attorney, clearly out of his league, protests that the government's taking is unconstitutional. Asked by the judge to identify the provision in the constitution that has been breeched, the flustered attorney stammers that the basic "vibe" of the constitution has been violated. So enters a brave new concept in constitutional law -- the vibe.

Professor Davis mentioned that this was only one in a series of films in a course that he teaches on law and film. Let's hope that there are more nuggets in the syllabus. I will inquire.

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