IN OUR DEFENSE by Ellen Alderman


The Bill of Rights in Action
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An appealing introduction to the Bill of Rights, which, by recounting illustrative cases, gives constitutional law a human dimension. Alderman and Kennedy (yes, that Caroline Kennedy), both recent graduates of Columbia Law School, give concise summaries of the facts of recent important Supreme Court decisions construing each of the first ten amendments to the Constitution. The cases are not classics--the landmark First Amendment decisions of Justice Holmes, for instance, are not here--yet each is modern, and reflects contemporary thinking on the Bill of Rights. The authors argue that while the litigants in many of these cases were not admirable, each litigant, in defending himself, benefited each of us by expanding the reach of the Bill of Rights. The authors' sometimes terse summaries do not always support very forcefully the argument that the decisions in each case benefited society (one could argue, for instance, that the Second Amendment's guarantee of the right to bear arms has outlived its usefulness), and in some cases the reader untutored in law might be forgiven for thinking that the decisions produced absurd and inequitable results (for instance, in Green v. United States, a convicted murderer and arsonist, against whom there was overwhelming evidence of guilt, was freed under the double jeopardy clause of the Constitution on the grounds that the trial judge made an improper charge to the jury). Nonetheless, Alderman and Kennedy successfully show that abstract constitutional principles can have an enormous impact on ordinary human beings.

Pub Date: Feb. 18th, 1990
ISBN: 688-07801-X
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
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