An openly liberal polemic, but nevertheless a brilliant summary of the important legal trends of the last 20 years.



Prominent New York lawyer and television commentator Garbus (Tough Talk, 1998, etc.) lucidly examines the threat he sees developing from an increasingly conservative judicial system.

Since 1980, Republicans have controlled the legal system more and more, the author contends. Reagan's Supreme Court appointments and the ascendancy of the Federalist Society, founded in 1982 and now the country's most powerful legal organization, have succeeded in reversing the liberal Warren Court’s decisions. Although Miranda v. Arizona (1966) guaranteed constitutional protections to criminal suspects, 60 related cases have subsequently been decided with only two rulings benefiting the defendant. In Atwater v. City of Lago Vista (2001), Gail Atwater, driving with two infants in her car, was arrested, handcuffed, and jailed for a seatbelt violation. Bringing her suit to the high court, she lost on grounds that policemen cannot immediately tell whether a suspect is jailable. Chief Justice Rehnquist openly opposes the Court's decision in Roe v. Wade (1973), which granted women a legal right to an abortion, and in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989) and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Robert P. Casey (1992), he came only one vote short of denying women that right. Any nominee of George W. Bush will probably reverse the 5-4 decision. For 30 years, asserts Garbus, the religious right has successfully pressed to blur the separation of church and state. In Mitchell v. Holmes, argued in 1999, the Court voted 6-3 to uphold a Louisiana law that permitted the state to loan computers and books to parochial schools. Dissenters Souter, Stevens, and Ginsburg saw the implicit danger that religious schools could benefit from taxpayer money. Garbus reviews cases covering environmental issues, employee rights, affirmative action, and federal versus state sovereignty. His portraits of the nine justices are most scathing in the cases of hardhearted Rehnquist and incompetent Thomas. He concludes by urging his allies to fight the present prevailing powers.

An openly liberal polemic, but nevertheless a brilliant summary of the important legal trends of the last 20 years.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2002

ISBN: 0-8050-6918-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2002

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Outstanding in every respect.



When the Supreme Court declined to accept the appeal of a 1963 rape case, Justice Arthur Goldberg published an unusual dissent questioning the constitutionality of the death penalty. From this small beginning, Mandery (John Jay College of Criminal Justice; Q: A Novel, 2011, etc.) skillfully traces the building momentum within the country and the court to question the legality of a punishment the Founding Fathers took for granted.

Indeed, by 1972, in Furman v. Georgia, the court struck down death penalty statutes so similar to those in 40 other states that executions nationwide came to a halt. Disagreement among Furman’s 5-4 majority—was the death penalty “cruel and unusual” punishment under the Eighth Amendment, or was its arbitrary application a violation under the 14th?—and a forceful dissent hinted at a blueprint for states to rewrite their capital-sentencing schemes. By 1976, 35 had done so. In Gregg v. Georgia and its companion cases, the court approved the revised statutes, opening the door to 1,300 state-sponsored executions since. Relying on interviews with law clerks and attorneys, information from economists, criminologists and social scientists, arguments from political and legal scholars, a thorough knowledge of all applicable cases and sure-handed storytelling, Mandery focuses on the strategies of the Legal Defense Fund, the remarkable attorneys who led the charge for abolition, to cover virtually every dimension of the capital punishment debate. The author is especially strong on the individual backgrounds, personalities and judicial philosophies of the justices, the shifting alliances among them and the frustrating contingencies upon which momentous decisions sometimes turn. Even those weary of this topic will be riveted by his insider information about towering figures, lawyers and judges.

Outstanding in every respect.

Pub Date: Aug. 19, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-393-23958-4

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 9, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2013

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Shallow and woefully clichéd.



Hackneyed reflections from an Australian journalist who spent about a year-and-a-half in Yangon, Myanmar (formerly Rangoon, Burma).

Although he was there in 2003–04 to train reporters for the rigidly censored English-language newspaper, The Myanmar Times, Olszewski, former editor of Australian Playboy and leader of the Australian Marijuana Party, has chosen to write about Myanmar from a nonpolitical perspective. His memoir concentrates on “ ‘ordinary’ people” and “the ‘Chestertonian’ trivialities of life” (the author’s arch use of quotation marks is just one of his irritating traits). In a country ruled by a brutally repressive military regime, Olszewski led a privileged expatriate existence: attending parties and opening nights of cultural events, gossiping in cafes and bars, bemoaning the lack of electricity and hot water, learning to chew betel nut, drinking hash beer and snake wine, eyeing the passing women. His worst experience was undergoing surgery for gallstones in a Yangon hospital that had no painkillers containing opiates. The author describes local festivals and Buddhist ceremonies; extols the beauty and demeanor of Asian women, whom he clearly admires; and rants against other expats, whom he sees as arrogant and ignorant. As Olszewski tells it, Myanmar is colorful and romantic, and its people—who just happen to be mostly very poor and singularly repressed—are delightful, charming and filled with a joyous zest for life.

Shallow and woefully clichéd.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-74114-507-4

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2006

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