The third volume of the author’s authoritative constitutional trilogy puts forth a brave argument on the importance of popular sovereignty as the galvanizing force in civil rights.
Nothing can stop an idea whose time has come, Ackerman (Law and Political Science/Yale Univ.) argues in this third scholarly installment of the We the People series. The author is a proponent of the so-called living Constitution and propounds eloquently that the American voters continually made their case for a collective We the People legitimization of power during what he calls the Second Reconstruction and the civil rights era. The struggle among all three branches of government has always decided this legitimacy, whether it was the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant in championing the Reconstruction Amendments, Franklin Roosevelt’s court-packing to drive through his New Deal programs, or the Supreme Court’s decision in the Jim Crow–shattering Brown v. Board of Education. In the case of the civil rights era, it took Lyndon Johnson’s series of landmark statutes, passed through a liberal Congress, to institutionalize equality and amend the Constitution more powerfully than even the 24th Amendment (banning the poll tax) could. These statutes included the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965 and Fair Housing Act of 1968. Yet it was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the bloody Selma march of 1965 that tipped Johnson’s hand to bestow to American blacks “the full blessings of American life.” The end of the dreaded poll tax and the unwavering support of President Richard Nixon for these same landmark statutes underscored the nation’s egalitarian commitment. In the second and third parts of the book, Ackerman delves into the constitutional detail of these landmark statutes.
Though occasionally overwhelming in the sheer volume of material, this is an erudite and passionately argued work.