BENCHMARKS by Terry Eastland


Great Constitutional Controversies in the Supreme Court
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 An erudite collection of essays, organized with an impressive internal logic by Eastland (Energy in the Executive, not reviewed), in which seven influential young constitutional scholars review some of the Supreme Court's most important decisions. The Constitution both represents and guarantees the protection of individual freedoms and liberties built into this nation's vision of itself. What these essays make eminently clear is that definitions of freedoms and rights vary (after all, the notion of individual rights had to be amended into the Constitution with the Bill of Rights), and that language, especially that of a binding document, can be incredibly fluid. The courts play a somewhat special role in this country. Reliance on legal precedent means that many of the most important and controversial political decisions--from Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld the notion of ``separate but equal'' in race segregation, to Brown v. Board of Education, which overturned it--are made or ratified in the Supreme Court. The contributors here look at the judicial and legal philosophies behind such important decisions. ACLU head Nadine Strossen defends the legally precarious right of privacy that was used to constitutionalize a woman's right to an abortion, while Amherst College professor of jurisprudence Hadley Arkes defines privacy in a way that would justify largely repudiated decisions glorifying freedom of contract over all others. Yale law professor Akhil Reed Amar defends the ``incorporation'' of the Bill of Rights through the 14th Amendment (making it applicable to state, in addition to federal, actions). And University of Notre Dame law professor Gerard Bradley posits that the evolution of constitutional interpretation has departed so radically from the original intent of the document's framers that the Supreme Court has in effect drafted a new constitution--one that he'd rather not ratify. Some of the essays will be tough going for lay readers, but their range of approaches illustrates many legitimate ways to interpret law--original intent, views of natural law, plain meaning--and their inevitable links to political stances.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-8028-3771-9
Page count: 197pp
Publisher: Eerdmans
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1994


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