The Constitution: Has Anyone Proofread Our Copies?

Laws are vital to a lawyer and the rest of us. Alas, the proofreading falls a bit short.

The United States Constitution is published in several highly authoritative sources. The original document has been imaged, hopefully as unretouched (unenhanced, if you wish) photographs, and the images, rendered large so you can see the lettering close in, have been made available online by the Federal government. I assume it was written 14 times, once for each state to keep and once for the U.S. government, and that last would arbitrarily be the one next to which to compare all others. Comparison found hundreds of errors distributed across several printed sources widely used by attorneys and judges. I don’t think any of the errors change meanings for major cases, but it cuts close to them, and some might be changed.

Why would statutes or regulations be error-free if we can’t get the Constitution right? Could rights be hidden from sight? While the government could be unaware of a right it has, I think that’s less likely, because the government would more closely track legislation and proposals word for word, But individuals and their lawyers would be less likely to search behind the texts published in generally highly reliable sources. It takes a lot of work to compare a codification to the uncodified texts, especially without hints where errors might be found, especially when the codifications are citable as at least prima facie evidence (acceptable as is unless rebutted) of the originals.

I compared Constitutional texts back in and and wrote an article. That’s the latest archived version at the Wayback Machine.

I do not know if proofreading has improved since then. I didn’t get much response from publishers back then. It’s likely that computerization of various stages in text handling reduces error, but probably most of the content of present-day codes goes back years and errors in most code content will be untouched by newer information technology, especially including Constitutional text. So, most of the errors may persist for decades.