A lifetime of scholarship and an elegant pen combine for an outstanding read.



A distinguished legal historian looks at how dissents have influenced our understanding of the Constitution.

Mindful of the institution’s authority and prestige, chief justices have always preferred that the Supreme Court speak with one voice. But disagreements—hardly surprising among powerful personalities asked to navigate the most difficult legal issues—have always been a part of the jurisprudence. While it’s true that most dissents are eminently forgettable, some have contributed mightily to our ongoing Constitutional dialogue. The dissenters address first, of course, the majority, pointing out weak arguments or misunderstood facts; second, the bench, bar, and legal academy; third, the other branches of government; and finally, the public and posterity, all in an attempt to move the law in a direction the majority declines to follow. In this scholarly yet wholly accessible treatment, Urofsky (Emeritus, Law, Public Policy, History/Virginia Commonwealth Univ.; Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, 2009, etc.) chronologically examines notable dissents and dissenters in the court’s history and considers the phenomenon from all angles, including how even the threat of a dissent can help shape the majority opinion. He supplies illuminating discussions of John Marshall Harlan, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Louis Brandeis, great dissenters whose opinions “carried the seeds for growth and the future transformation of judicial doctrine.” Readers will appreciate Urofsky’s resurrection of some lesser-known justices—Stephen Field, Wiley Rutledge—and their contributions to our Constitutional discourse. Also noteworthy is the author’s dissection of the rhetorical combat among Franklin Roosevelt appointees, his tracking of the evolving understanding of privacy, affirmative action, and sexual orientation from the Warren through the Roberts court, and his treatment of the “permanent dissents” on capital punishment cases. Whether it’s Jackson on wartime internment or Black on the right to counsel, the very best dissents constitute, in one scholar’s words, “buried ammunition for future generations to unearth when the time comes.”

A lifetime of scholarship and an elegant pen combine for an outstanding read.   

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-307-37940-5

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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Bernstein and Woodward, the two Washington Post journalists who broke the Big Story, tell how they did it by old fashioned seat-of-the-pants reporting — in other words, lots of intuition and a thick stack of phone numbers. They've saved a few scoops for the occasion, the biggest being the name of their early inside source, the "sacrificial lamb" H**h Sl**n. But Washingtonians who talked will be most surprised by the admission that their rumored contacts in the FBI and elsewhere never existed; many who were telephoned for "confirmation" were revealing more than they realized. The real drama, and there's plenty of it, lies in the private-eye tactics employed by Bernstein and Woodward (they refer to themselves in the third person, strictly on a last name basis). The centerpiece of their own covert operation was an unnamed high government source they call Deep Throat, with whom Woodward arranged secret meetings by positioning the potted palm on his balcony and through codes scribbled in his morning newspaper. Woodward's wee hours meetings with Deep Throat in an underground parking garage are sheer cinema: we can just see Robert Redford (it has to be Robert Redford) watching warily for muggers and stubbing out endless cigarettes while Deep Throat spills the inside dope about the plumbers. Then too, they amass enough seamy detail to fascinate even the most avid Watergate wallower — what a drunken and abusive Mitchell threatened to do to Post publisher Katherine Graham's tit, and more on the Segretti connection — including the activities of a USC campus political group known as the Ratfuckers whose former members served as a recruiting pool for the Nixon White House. As the scandal goes public and out of their hands Bernstein and Woodward seem as stunned as the rest of us at where their search for the "head ratfucker" has led. You have to agree with what their City Editor Barry Sussman realized way back in the beginning — "We've never had a story like this. Just never."

Pub Date: June 18, 1974

ISBN: 0671894412

Page Count: 372

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1974

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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