RIGHTS AT RISK by David K. Shipler


The Limits of Liberty in Modern America
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A Pulitzer Prize winner resumes his well-reported account of the assault on our constitutional rights in a post-9/11 world.

In this companion volume to The Rights of the People: How Our Search for Safety Invades Our Liberties (2011), Shipler turns to the First, Fifth and Sixth Amendments and the constitutional rights “routinely overwhelmed” during this, the sixth era in our history when liberties have been especially at risk. Citing national security or public safety, the executive branch has historically in times of national crisis chipped away at the Bill of Rights to deal with an immediate threat, leaving us impoverished for the long term. Shipler chronicles our current drift away from constitutional principles by taking us into interrogation rooms where suspects may, without being informed of their rights, fall prey to the manipulations and deceptive techniques of professional interrogators. He exposes the eagerness with which police and prosecutors embrace false confessions, notwithstanding the inaccuracies and contradictions they contain. He examines the criminal courts, where systemic flaws in our laws have diminished the right to jury trial, where the forfeiture of assets and the revocation of probation are too easily accomplished, where the right to effective assistance of counsel has been shortchanged. Frightened officials, after years of lax enforcement, have now mobilized immigration laws to target entire groups. We have also stifled free speech in our schools and universities, Shipler argues, where authorities regularly ignore Supreme Court precedents, choosing order and discipline over vigorous debate. The same impulse accounts for constricting the public square, where so-called free-speech zones and zealous police surveillance chill the right to petition for redress of grievances. No matter the issue, Shipler humanizes the discussion throughout, linking each topic to stories of real people silenced, marginalized, neglected, bullied, even brutalized by a government that should know better.

A colorful account of our early-21st-century faithlessness to principles we at least pretend to revere.

Pub Date: March 5th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-307-59486-0
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2012


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