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Friday, October 02, 2009

Comma or Smudge?

The Signing of the ConstitutionAs a follow up to my smart-alecky post on the poor drafting of the U.S. Constitution, I should point out that at least one interlineation in the document has led to real confusion about the document’s actual content.

As I pointed out yesterday, in Article I, Section 3, the language “is tried” is inserted into the provision on Senate procedure in the case of presidential impeachment. The text thus reads: “When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside[.]”

The confusion is about whether the interlineation inserted a comma after “is tried”.

The U.S. Government Printing Office, in its published transcription, takes the view that there is no comma between “is tried” and “the Chief Justice”.

The National Archives, on the other hand, in its transcript, includes the comma.

My view is that the sentence includes the comma. The ink mark at issue looks like a comma, not like a smudge, and it makes grammatical sense for there to be a comma in that location. Here, take a look.

It is in all likelihood a distinction without a difference. But it is nonetheless fascinating that different agencies of the federal government do not have identical understandings of the literal text of the Constitution.

Posted by Eric E. Johnson on October 2, 2009 at 10:27 AM in Constitutional thoughts | Permalink


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“When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside[.]”

This could be a good start to a Constitutional Rap for further smart-alecky posts, provided anyone gives a rap.

Posted by: Shag from Brookline | Oct 2, 2009 11:12:01 AM

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