Speaking out without talking down, Breyer renders a signal service to his fellow citizens.

MAKING OUR DEMOCRACY WORK

A JUDGE'S VIEW

For the general reader, a sitting Justice explains how the Supreme Court won the public trust and what it must do to keep it.

Employing a succession of cases from Marbury v. Madison to Bush v. Gore, Breyer (Active Liberty: Interpreting Our Democratic Constitution, 2005) offers a short, highly accessible course on the evolution of judicial review, the doctrine permitting the Court to invalidate laws conflicting with the Constitution. Although history and tradition explain how the Court’s decisions and interpretations have earned deference from public officials and acceptance from the citizenry, preserving that hard-won, critical role in our democracy, the author insists, requires the Court to issue decisions that ensure the Constitution works in practice. Rejecting originalism, political or subjective preferences, he argues for a pragmatic interpretation of the Constitution that looks first to the purposes and consequences of the law and relies on strength of reasoning for persuasion. Applying an 18th-century document to the unanticipated controversies of the modern nation or divining the meaning of frequently incomplete or silent statutes is rarely simple. The merits of any single case aside, the Court must also take into account a variety of legal doctrines, properly respect the expertise and prerogatives of the other governmental branches and avoid insult to state and inferior U.S. courts in our federal system, all in the service of forging decisions acceptable to the country. In a passage on the Court’s special province, protecting individual rights, Breyer takes us through a judge’s thinking—how he identifies the enduring value in a constitutional provision and applies it to particular facts. The author concludes with a comparison of the infamous Korematsu decision approving the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II with the four recent Guantánamo cases, in which the Court adopted a more workable approach, even during a time of serious national threat, to protect constitutional values.

Speaking out without talking down, Breyer renders a signal service to his fellow citizens.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-307-26991-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2010

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

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

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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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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