Author granted license

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International

Document Type


Publication Date





Boston University School of Law




In The Princess Bride, 1 the conniving Sicilian Vizzini is constantly declaring that events that are obviously occurring in plain sight are “inconceivable.”2 The third time (in the span of five pages) that Vizzini proclaims something that is clearly happening to be “inconceivable,” Vizzini’s then-companion, the Spaniard Inigo Montoya, snaps, “You keep using that word! . . . I don’t think it means what you think it does.”3 The voice of Inigo Montoya (well, actually the voice of Mandy Patinkin, who brilliantly deadpanned rather than “snapped”4 a version of the line in the movie adaptation of The Princess Bride5) was running through my head while I was reading the two books that are paired for this symposium at Boston University School of Law: Mariah Zeisberg’s War Powers: The Politics of Constitutional Authority6 and Stephen Griffin’s Long Wars and the Constitution. 7 Each author’s analysis centers on single, repeatedly used words that I do not think mean what the authors think they mean. In the case of Professor Zeisberg, the word is “constitutional”; in the case of Professor Griffin, the word is “war.” Interestingly, Professor Zeisberg pays keen attention to the ambiguities latent in the word “war,” (Zeisberg pp. 5, 8, 12-13, 19, 21) while Professor Griffin neatly avoids most of the problems raised by Professor Zeisberg’s use of the term “constitutional” by treating his conception of a “constitutional order” (Griffin pp. 4, 14) as descriptive rather than prescriptive. If one could somehow merge the two books, perhaps Inigo’s voice would be silenced. But as things stand, both books, while immensely valuable resources, are in need of significant clarification.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.