JUDGMENTS: Essays on American Constitutional History by Leonard W. Levy

JUDGMENTS: Essays on American Constitutional History

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Leonard Levy is one of our most respected, most perceptive constitutional historians. His 1968 Pulitzer-Prize winning Origins of the Fifth Amendment stands as the preeminent study of that oft misunderstood and broadly maligned liberty; likewise his explications on press and religious freedom, exemplified by Legacy of Suppression (1960), are widely known and appreciated in historical circles. This collection of essays -- reprints of scattered articles and introductions to anthologies he's edited over the years -- bears Levy's stamp of apposite, careful scholarship; and while its contents are not new, it does serve as a general thematic introduction to the questions and ideas he has been concerned with since the '50's. The essays here range far and wide, treating such constitutional issues as the legitimacy of judicial review, the influence of judges' temperament on the courtroom process, persistent First Amendment questions in the areas of expression and religion, the dynamic interplay in recent years between the Fourteenth and First Amendments, and the pre-Civil War origins of the ""Separate but Equal"" doctrine. Among the ""judgments"" is the charge -- reiterated in several of the pieces here -- that the Supreme Court has ""flunked history,"" e.g., in Fifth Amendment cases ""the Court's use of history. . . fits a pattern that might charitably be described as historical incompetence, uncharitably as law-office history."" Another Levy judgment accuses the High Court of inconsistently or capriciously interpreting the First Amendment ""establishment of religion"" clause (in the only selection not previously published -- a lengthy memorandum prepared for the Fund for the Republic in 1958 -- Levy argues that the establishment clause clearly prohibits any public support for religious groups, including school funds). Levy's opinions are laced with a strong regard for precedent -- for instance he rags judicial activists for having ""slight respect for history"" and ""a nearly limitless ability to intoxicate themselves with fictions"" -- but paradoxically he acclaims the precedent-busting Warren Court as ""a golden age"" of American constitutional law. There are other nagging contradictions (e.g., the accusation that the Court usurped the power of judicial review ""is without merit"" because the ""governed"" have given ""tacit consent""?); however don't be misled -- these essays are anything but hollow and moreover they serve to admirably introduce the Levy corpus.

Pub Date: May 16th, 1972
Publisher: Quadrangle