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The Curvature of Constitutional Space: What Lawyers Can Learn from Modern Physics

Laurence H. Tribe
Harvard Law Review
Vol. 103, No. 1 (Nov., 1989), pp. 1-39
DOI: 10.2307/1341407
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1341407
Page Count: 39
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The Curvature of Constitutional Space: What Lawyers Can Learn from Modern Physics
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Abstract

Twentieth-century physics revolutionized our understanding of the physical world. Relativity theory replaced a view of the universe as made up of isolated objects acting upon one another at a distance with a model in which space itself was curved and changed by the presence and movement of objects. Quantum physics undermined the confidence of scientists in their ability to observe and understand a phenomenon without fundamentally altering it in the process. Professor Tribe uses these paradigm shifts in physics to illustrate the need for a revised constitutional jurisprudence. He argues that judges and lawyers need to recognize the profound impact that the law has in shaping the social background. This background is too often taken as given. Judges, in particular, cannot simply reach in and resolve disputes between individuals without permanently altering the legal and social space. The very act of judging alters the context and relationships being judged. Professor Tribe concludes that, while perspectives resembling those of modern physics have been integrated into some of the most important constitutional cases decided during the twentieth century, the current Supreme Court shows an unfortunate tendency toward relying too often on visions of society and knowledge that have long been rejected as overly formal and sterile.

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