From a constitutional law expert, 20 years’ worth of essays on controversial issues that have dominated the headlines.
In addition to his teaching and research responsibilities, Amar (Law and Political Science/Yale Univ.; The Law of the Land: A Grand Tour of Our Constitutional Republic, 2015, etc.) has filled yet another niche “within the contemporary American constitutional ecosystem.” Acting as a “constitutional journalist,” writing for newspapers, magazines, and journals, he has regularly seized timely new hooks “on which to hang a broader argument that extends far beyond the news event putatively prompting the piece.” In this collection, the author arranges the essays under broad headings—the three branches of government, the culture wars, the dramas attending Bill Clinton’s impeachment, George W. Bush’s first election, and Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act—and prefaces individual topics with updated commentary reflecting the author’s estimation of how his on-deadline reporting has held up or his thinking has evolved. Subjects stretch from the hot-off-the-press, stalled nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court all the way back to Clinton v. Jones (1997) and the hazards of permitting a private lawsuit against a sitting president. Believing there are right and wrong answers to constitutional questions and convinced that the correct judgment usually emerges over time, Amar rigorously analyzes each issue in accessible prose, with humor and humility. He forthrightly confesses his bias as “a card-carrying Democratic scholar,” but instances abound here—on gun rights, on the exclusionary rule, on campaign finance—where the conclusions he’s reached appear to cut against his political preference. This insistence on playing fair—his willingness to, for example, praise Antonin Scalia or criticize Stephen Breyer (for whom he clerked) when the occasion demands—is one of this book’s many charms, lending credence to the sharp scrutiny the professor applies to every topic and to the predictions he makes about the course of constitutional law.
Bringing an unusually informed and cool head to the tumult accompanying unfolding events, Amar performs a valuable service for his fellow citizens.