by William H. Rehnquist ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 5, 1998
An enjoyable historical presentation with a frustratingly judicious conclusion. From the chief justice of the US Supreme Court you anticipate authoritative, decisive, even momentous opinions. In this volume, however, Rehnquist conducts a walk through the park rather than a grilling before the bar. To consider the status of civil liberties during national emergencies he explores the suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War and its aftermath, the suppression of civil liberties under the Espionage Act during WWI, and the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. The historical presentation is descriptive and conventional, yet pleasant, as Rehnquist focuses on legal actions attendant to the temporary restrictions of individual rights. There is much more information on the Civil War and Lincoln's assassination than necessary, and a more detailed examination of the relevant cases, informed by analysis along the way, might have better served his ends. Nevertheless, the exposition is well crated and by late in the volume the reader is ready for the payoff: Rehnquist's conclusions regarding the clash of individual rights and national security. Unfortunately, the brief concluding chapter is more illustrative of how a cautious jurist approaches an inherently problematic question than of any principle that might provide an answer. The issue is clearly identified--""achieving a proper balance between freedom and order""--without defining ""proper"" beyond suggesting that the balance shifts ""to some degree"" toward order when national well-being is at stake. Rehnquist does eschew an absolute standing for civil liberties, if the circumstances absolutely require their suspension, and he apparently prefers to avoid suggesting general criteria that would inject content into this abstract stand. One imagines that if Rehnquist were asked how he likes his steak, he would reply with an insightful history of man's experience as a carnivore along with an injunction that meat must be cooked but not overdone. The chief justice raises an important question without resolving anything.
Pub Date: Oct. 5, 1998
Page Count: 256
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1998
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