Kirkus Reviews QR Code
CLOSING THE COURTHOUSE DOOR by Erwin Chemerinsky Kirkus Star


How Your Constitutional Rights Became Unenforceable

by Erwin Chemerinsky

Pub Date: Jan. 10th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-300-21158-0
Publisher: Yale Univ.

How conservative majorities in successive Supreme Courts have consistently acted in recent years to block citizens’ access to redress of grievances through the courts.

Chemerinsky (Law and Political Science/Univ. of California, Irvine School of Law; The Case Against the Supreme Court, 2014, etc.), who is on the National Jurist’s list of the “Most Influential People in Legal Education,” challenges anyone concerned with particular injustices to step back and examine the bigger picture. He charges that government, at all levels, has been made immune from suits for redress of grievances and wrongs whether brought by individuals or through class action. Throughout, he provides ample casebook evidence to support his arguments. The Supreme Courts chaired by William Rehnquist and John Roberts have both erected significant barriers to citizens attempting to bring suits, effectively turning government at the federal level into a parody of the monarchy it was created to replace. Doctrines of state sovereignty have been rolled out to block access to federal courts and constitutional redress, and judges, prosecutors, police, and prison staff have all been accorded immunity from those seeking redress. These immunities have been maintained in a variety of direct and indirect ways, including procedural maneuvers such as redefining how a plaintiff or plaintiffs can attain standing to proceed. Even the doctrine of habeas corpus has been hollowed out. Otherwise, the excuse of politics has been misused to dump court issues back onto the legislative branch. Furthermore, constitutional appeals have become almost impossible to make, much less win. In Chemerinsky’s view, “the effect of the Supreme Court’s decisions…is that the Republican Form of Government Clause is essentially read out of the Constitution.” Widespread government surveillance is protected, and the court’s political majority has eroded individuals’ rights, even as it has transformed government.

A dramatic challenge to understand the shakiness of the foundations we take for granted and where energies committed to redress should be directed.