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Odd Clauses Watch: Cars 2, Knighthood, and the Constitution

Jay Wexler is the author of The Odd Clauses: Understanding the Constitution Through Ten of Its Most Curious Provisions. Wexler is a professor at the Boston University School of Law; prior to teaching he worked as a clerk to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the U.S. Supreme Court, and then as a lawyer in the Office of Legal Council at the Department of Justice. He has published nearly twenty academic articles, essays, and reviews, as well as nearly three dozen short stories and humor pieces, in places like The Boston GlobeSpyMental Floss and McSweeney's. This post originally appeared on his blog.

[Editor's note: SPOILER ALERT! In the post that follows, renowned legal Scholar Jay Wexler reveals important plot points from Disney Pixar's Cars 2. Because we care deeply about your enjoyment of family-friendly entertainment, if you have not yet seen this movie consider yourself warned and do not read any further, but do go out and pre-order your copy of The Odd Clauses.]

Hi there. If you have kids and are interested in obscure aspects of the Constitution, then perhaps you are wondering whether it was constitutional for Mater the goofball tow truck from Cars to be knighted by the Queen of England car at the end of Cars 2, following how Mater saved the world and everything. Doesn’t the Constitution say something about titles of nobility, and doesn’t that maybe prevent US citizens from becoming knights and dukes and what have you?

First of all, of course, it might not be the case that the U.S. Constitution governs these cars. How the hell do I know what legal system these automobiles live under? In the first movie, Doc Hudson presided over a court that sentenced Lightning McQueen to fix the road that he ruined when he fell out of Mac and lost control on his way into Radiator Springs. Then again, Doc Hudson also presided over what seemed to be something of a prostate exam on the police car, so who knows what’s going on? It does seem, however, that there is law in Cars land, and Cars does seem to be set in a world that looks almost exactly like our own, only that there are no people and only cars. I think it’s a fair assumption that the Constitution applies. I suppose we could get into the question of whether to assume that if the world of Cars is governed by the Constitution, the founding car fathers also substituted the word “cars” for “persons” whenever that would have been appropriate. What good would a Constitution that refers to “persons” be in a world where there are no persons, right? In any event, I think I’ll just let you stew over that one yourself.

WEXLER-OddClauses Assuming that the U.S. Constitution applies to these cars, however, it would still have been okay for the Queen car to knight Mater, because although the Constitution prohibits active “officers” of the United States from generally accepting titles of nobility, and although it also prohibits the U.S. federal government or any of the states from granting titles of nobility, it does not prohibit a regular old citizen from accepting a foreign title of nobility. That’s why it has always been okay for various non government officials like Jerry Lewis and Bob Hope to accept foreign titles and lordships and legions of honor and what have you. It doesn’t, of course, explain why French people think Jerry Lewis is funny, but at least he didn’t violate the Constitution. And neither did Mater. Phew.

For more about the Titles of Nobility Clauses, I hope you’ll check out my book when it comes out in the fall, because there’s a whole chapter in there about them.