Segments in this Video

Credits: Ronald Dworkin: The Meaning of the Constitution (00:28)


Credits: Ronald Dworkin: The Meaning of the Constitution

Introduction (00:50)

Moyers notes the history of struggle over the Constitution

Constitution Interpretation (02:33)

American Ronald Dworkin holds Oxford's chair of jurisprudence and is a controversial philosopher of law. When multiple legitimate interpretations are available, he believes, the Court should pick the one it thinks is best.

Dworkin's View of Constitution (00:59)

Moyers reviews Dworkin's work. Dworkin sees America's Constitutional history as a narrative sweeping across centuries.

British and American Constitutions Contrasted (02:41)

Britain's constitution is unwritten, and Parliament may change it without judicial review, in contrast with America's. The British see judicial review as undemocratic.

British and American Attitudes Contrasted (02:17)

The ability to appeal to the Constitution changes our relation with our government; we see ourselves as part of a common enterprise. American law is much more theoretical than the British.

Tradition Unifies and Constrains (01:52)

Constitutional debates are unifying because they provide a common appeal. The need to defend these interpretations as part of an unfolding story constrains the Court.

Judge's Preferences (02:00)

Moyers suggests our preexisting understanding will determine where we think a novel or our Constitutional history is going. Dworkin acknowledges that aesthetic tastes will influence our selection among equally valid interpretations.

Original Intent (01:30)

Original intent, which Dworkin had thought was discredited, attempts to discern how the Founders would have applied their general principles concretely. He raises objections.

Bound by Principles, Not Applications (03:27)

We should not look at the Framer's intentions, which are widely variable. We should look at convictions; the Founders wanted us to be bound by principles, not particular applications.

Human Dignity (03:06)

Human dignity was, broadly speaking, the Framers' most important principle. Dworkin discusses the application of these ideas to gay rights.

Moral Majority (01:25)

The moral majority may be finding under the newly-conservative judiciary sanction for its goals of imposing its morality on others.

AIDS (03:02)

Moyers asks whether regulations on homosexual conduct could be justified on scientific, health grounds. Dworkin believes AIDS could threaten individual rights.

Limited Claims of Order (01:44)

Ideals such as order are unlimited. Some order is desirable, but not maximum order at the expense of all else.

Pornography (03:23)

Dworkin thinks a majority opposed to pornography has the right to avoid exposure to it when walking the streets, but cannot ban it altogether.

Affirmative Action (02:22)

In response to Moyers' assertion that the Civil Rights Act is used to give blacks preferential treatment, Dworkin says the question is whether the Act and Constitution permit such preferences.

Bakke (02:31)

In Bakke, the Court struck down a University of California racial quota system but allowed use of race as a factor. Racial preferences overturn Brown v. Board's campaign to get color out of the law, so Dworkin initially opposed them.

Non-Prejudiced Racial Discrimination (02:47)

Dworkin used to oppose affirmative action, but now believes only that we should not discriminate out of prejudice. Discrimination itself is not bad- universities discriminate in favor of intelligence.

Social Value of Being Black (01:44)

Medical schools should select students who can do social good. Black doctors can gain more trust of black patients- being black itself has social value.

Ideal Judge (03:08)

Dworkin created a model judge to give judges a picture of how they would judge without political constraints. In reality, we rely on a process of national discussion and a process of checking arguments against text and history.

Limits on Court Power (01:08)

To Moyers, the Court limits other branches without being itself limited. Dworkin notes the Court cannot declare war or raise taxes, but is primarily tasked with defining individual sovereignty, and that Presidential appointment power shapes the Court.

Learned Hand Contrasted with New Conservatives (02:23)

Dworkin clerked under conservative Judge Learned Hand, with whom he disagreed but respected. Justice Rehnquist is different, wanting to go back to states' rights majoritarianism.

Court's Expanding Reach (02:44)

Moyers notes concern that federal courts have extended themselves into Constitutionally petty realms. Dworkin argues that there is a logic driving the Court to such realms, as Courts have to apply principles to specific cases.

Court's Administrative Decisions (01:18)

Moyers suggests Courts can leave details in application of principles to political branches. Dworkin argues that this can be impractical with recalcitrant legislatures, but acknowledges limits to judges' administrative qualifications.

Constitution as Moral Dimension (00:54)

The Constitution gives us a dimension of politics other countries lack, a forum with decisions removed from interest groups.

History of Ignoring and Respecting Constitution (02:17)

Moyers argues that the U.S. has become great only by ignoring the Constitution. Dworkin says violations were inevitable and became entrenched as the country grew, but that it has been resilient against events such as Watergate.

Legacy and Glory of Constitution (01:15)

For Dworkin, the Constitution is a structure allowing us to have uniquely principled arguments, and a unifying secular religion.

Sponsors & Credits: Ronald Dworkin: The Meaning of the Constitution (01:43)

Sponsors & Credits: Ronald Dworkin: The Meaning of the Constitution

For additional digital leasing and purchase options contact a media consultant at 800-257-5126
(press option 3) or

Ronald Dworkin: The Meaning of the Constitution

Part of the Series : In Search of the Constitution
DVD Price: $79.95
DVD + 3-Year Streaming Price: $119.93
3-Year Streaming Price: $79.95



Ronald Dworkin, an American who is professor of jurisprudence at Oxford University, is regarded as one of the most influential philosophers of law in the English-speaking world. His views on the current debate over the meaning of the Constitution today are so robust and controversial, they make waves on both sides of the Atlantic. In this program, Dworkin shares his ideas on the Constitution and its meaning to Americans today. (60 minutes)

Length: 58 minutes

Item#: BVL4910

ISBN: 978-1-4213-9246-2

Copyright date: ©1987

Closed Captioned

Performance Rights

Prices include public performance rights.

Not available to Home Video customers.

Only available in USA and Canada.