The United Kingdom is famous for having an "unwritten constitution." In reality the constitution is written, just in a lot of places: the bits of Magna Carta that still mean something, 16th-century case law confirming the monarch's ownership of English swans, later cases prohibiting the punishment of juries and general warrants, the Human Rights Act of 1998, and so forth. The British Constitution is "written" in the same way my office is "organized": Things are there somewhere, just hard to find.

Of course, the British Constitution is considered "unwritten" because it is not compiled into a single identifiable charter with "Constitution" written at the top and sold in poster form at museum gift shops. Many readers will probably associate this type of "written constitution" with America, though as the world's shortest national charter, the U.S. Constitution may be one of the few that is actually amenable to the poster medium.

But is the U.S. Constitution actually that much more "written" than its British counterpart? Several years ago, a juror in a U.S. federal drugs trial persisted in asking his fellow jurors: "In the past they had to change the constitution to prohibit the manufacture, import and sale of alcohol. How can the federal government criminalize the possession of drugs without a similar amendment?"