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Supreme Language
Matt Franck

Matt Franck is working to clarify some things, particularly the language used by the U.S. Supreme Court when rendering its opinions.

Franck, chair of RU’s Political Science Department, is on a year-long sabbatical during the 2008-09 academic year at Princeton University as a visiting fellow under the auspices of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. While at Princeton, Franck is completing Strict Scrutiny: A Lexicon of Supreme Court Sense and Nonsense. That’s the working title for the book that will feature a group of “essays on the linguistic origins, history, and significance of key phrases in the vocabulary of the Supreme Court’s constitutional jurisprudence,” Franck said.

Matt FranckThe professor is aiming the book toward students as an aid to help them understand the Supreme Court opinions he requires his classes to read and also help them learn about the power implications that those opinions have had over the Court’s history.

“I decided to write Strict Scrutiny because, after teaching constitutional law since the mid-1980s, I began to realize two things,” Franck said. “First, students can be extremely baffled by the specialized language used by the Supreme Court justices in their decision-making on constitutional questions, language that won’t be explained by standard references like law dictionaries. Second, there’s a very good reason the students are baffled, because a lot of this language obscures legal reasoning rather than clarifying it, and cloaks the accumulation of power in the judiciary.”

Franck had written much of the book before he left for Princeton in August, and is using part of his time at the Ivy League university to finish the scholarly project.

Franck has also been asked to pen a new introduction to a 1914 book, The Doctrine of Judicial Review, written by Edward S. Corwin, the first chair of Princeton’s Department of Politics who, 46 years past his death, remains “one of the most influential scholars of the U.S. Constitution, jurisprudence, and the work of the Supreme Court in the 20th century,” Franck noted.

The professor is delighted for the opportunity to work on the project and to be at Princeton where Corwin’s private papers and manuscripts are archived. “It’s a great opportunity,” he said.

Franck is also thankful for his invitation to be a visiting fellow in the James Madison Program. Founded in 2000, the program annually brings together visiting fellows who have overlapping interests from the disciplines of political science, history, philosophy and law and invites them to interact and participate in lecture series, conferences and informal gatherings.

Franck is among about a dozen scholars ranging from pre- and post-doctoral fellows to senior scholars, all of whom are pursuing independent research and writing projects.

“Some of us have research interests very close to one another’s,” Franck said. “This makes our interactions very useful. We have weekly coffees and regular lunches where the fellows present their work in progress to each other and face some tough questions.”

Franck’s work at Princeton has been beneficial in allowing him time not only to work on scholar projects, but also to “recharge my batteries,” he said.

“When I return to teaching next year, I expect to be more knowledgeable about my subject, to have a book completed that has been intended all along for a student readership, and to have an expanded circle of scholarly friends on whom I can draw for help with my teaching and research,” Franck said.

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