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June 03, 2010

How to Cite the U.S. Constitution in APA Style

Chelsea blogby Chelsea Lee

 “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union....” —U.S. Constitution, pmbl.
 U.S. Constitution (image in the public domain, obtained from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Constitution_Pg1of4_AC.jpg) 

Those immortal words open the U.S. Constitution. But how to cite it in an APA Style paper? The answer is in the Bluebook—no, not that cheery blue-covered 6th edition Publication Manual, but The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation (18th ed., 2005; www.legalbluebook.com). The Bluebook sets the standard for all legal citations, and the style for legal citations that you see in the Publication Manual (see Appendix 7.1: References to Legal Materials, pp. 216–224) comes directly from the Bluebook. Although the Publication Manual includes a variety of legal citation examples (cases, statutes, bills, and more), citing constitutions is not among them. So before we continue please note that if you need further guidance on legal citations you should consult the Bluebook directly or your friendly local law librarian.

First, if you simply want to make passing reference to the U.S. Constitution in an APA Style paper, you can mention it in text without a reference list entry.

Law students described a great affinity for the U.S. Constitution in their 
response papers.

However, if you are using some part of the U.S. Constitution as evidence to support a point you are making in your paper, you should construct the citation using Bluebook Rule 11, which covers federal and state constitutions.

All citations of the U.S. Constitution begin with U.S. Const., followed by the article, amendment, section, and/or clause numbers as relevant. The terms article, amendment, section, and clause are always abbreviated art., amend., §, and cl., respectively. Preamble is abbreviated pmbl. (as in my opening quotation). Article and amendment numbers are given in Roman numerals (I, II, III); section and clause numbers are given in Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3). The Bluebook states that for parts of the Constitution currently in force, do not include a date. If you are referring to a part of the Constitution that has been repealed or amended, include the year that the part in question was repealed or amended in parentheses.

Using Rule 11, here are example in-text citation and reference list entries. Note how similar they are:

In text: The founding fathers addressed the process by which new states
may join the union (U.S. Const. art. IV, § 3).

Reference list: U.S. Const. art. IV, § 3.
In text: Women gained the right to vote in 1920 (U.S. Const. amend. XIX).

Reference list: U.S. Const. amend. XIX.
In text: During prohibition, the sale of liquor was made illegal (U.S. 
Const. amend. XVIII, repealed 1933).

Reference list: U.S. Const. amend. XVIII (repealed 1933).

Thanks for citing the Constitution with us!


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