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Featured Acquisitions - March 2013

 

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On Constitutional Disobedience by Louis Michael Seidman
New York: Oxford University Press, 2012
KF4550 .S375 2012 Balcony

What would the Framers of the Constitution make of multinational corporations? Nuclear weapons? Gay marriage? They led a preindustrial country, much of it dependent on slave labor, huddled on the Atlantic seaboard. The Founders saw society as essentially hierarchical, led naturally by landed gentry like themselves. Yet we still obey their commands, two centuries and one civil war later. According to Louis Michael Seidman, it's time to stop.

In On Constitutional Disobedience, Seidman argues that, in order to bring our basic law up to date, it needs benign neglect. This is a highly controversial assertion. The doctrine of "original intent" may be found on the far right, but the entire political spectrum--left and right--shares a deep reverence for the Constitution. And yet, Seidman reminds us, disobedience is the original intent of the Constitution. The Philadelphia convention had gathered to amend the Articles of Confederation, not toss them out and start afresh. The "living Constitution" school tries to bridge the gap between the framers and ourselves by reinterpreting the text in light of modern society's demands. But this attempt is doomed, Seidman argues. One might stretch "due process of law" to protect an act of same-sex sodomy, yet a loyal-but-contemporary reading cannot erase the fact that the Constitution allows a candidate who lost the popular election to be seated as president. And that is only one of the gross violations of popular will enshrined in the document. Seidman systematically addresses and refutes the arguments in favor of Constitutional fealty, proposing instead that it be treated as inspiration, not a set of commands.

The Constitution is, at its best, a piece of poetry to liberty and self-government. If we treat it as such, the author argues, we will make better progress in achieving both.


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Priests of Our Democracy: The Supreme Court, Academic Freedom, and the Anti-Communist Purge by Marjorie Heins
New York: New York University Press, 2013
KF4242 .H45 2013 Balcony

In the early 1950s, New York City's teachers and professors became the targets of massive investigations into their political beliefs and associations. Those who refused to cooperate in the questioning were fired. Some had undoubtedly been communists, and the Communist Party-USA certainly made its share of mistakes, but there was never evidence that the accused teachers had abused their trust. Some were among the most brilliant, popular, and dedicated educators in the city. Priests of Our Democracy tells of the teachers and professors who resisted the witch hunt, those who collaborated, and those whose battles led to landmark Supreme Court decisions. It traces the political fortunes of academic freedom beginning in the late 19th century, both on campus and in the courts. Combining political and legal history with wrenching personal stories, the book details how the anti-communist excesses of the 1950s inspired the Supreme Court to recognize the vital role of teachers and professors in American democracy. The crushing of dissent in the 1950s impoverished political discourse in ways that are still being felt, and First Amendment academic freedom, a product of that period, is in peril today. In compelling terms, this book shows why the issue should matter to every American.


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The Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantanamo Bay by Jess Bravin
New Haven: Yale University Press 2013
KF7661 .B73 2013 Balcony

Soon after the September 11 attacks in 2001, the United States captured hundreds of suspected al-Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan and around the world. By the following January the first of these prisoners arrived at the U.S. military’s prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where they were subject to President George W. Bush’s executive order authorizing their trial by military commissions. Jess Bravin, theWall Street Journal’s Supreme Court correspondent, was there within days of the prison’s opening, and has continued ever since to cover the U.S. effort to create a parallel justice system for enemy aliens. A maze of legal, political, and moral issues has stood in the way of justice—issues often raised by military prosecutors who found themselves torn between duty to the chain of command and their commitment to fundamental American values.

While much has been written about Guantanamo and brutal detention practices following 9/11, Bravin is the first to go inside the Pentagon’s prosecution team to expose the real-world legal consequences of those policies. Bravin describes cases undermined by inadmissible evidence obtained through torture, clashes between military lawyers and administration appointees, and political interference in criminal prosecutions that would be shocking within the traditional civilian and military justice systems. With the Obama administration planning to try the alleged 9/11 conspirators at Guantanamo—and vindicate the legal experiment the Bush administration could barely get off the ground—The Terror Courts could not be more timely.


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The Armageddon Letters: Kennedy/Khruschev/Castro in the Cuban Missile Crisis by James Blight and Janet Lang
Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2012
S3602.L55 A89 2012 Basement

In October, 1962, the Cuban missile crisis brought human civilization to the brink of destruction. On the 50th anniversary of the most dangerous confrontation of the nuclear era, two of the leading experts on the crisis recreate the drama of those tumultuous days as experienced by the leaders of the three countries directly involved: U.S. President John F. Kennedy, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, and Cuban President Fidel Castro. Organized around the letters exchanged among the leaders as the crisis developed and augmented with many personal details of the circumstances under which they were written, considered, and received, Blight and Lang poignantly document the rapidly shifting physical and psychological realities faced in Washington, Moscow, and Havana. The result is a revolving stage that allows the reader to experience the Cuban missile crisis as never before-through the eyes of each leader as they move through the crisis. The Armageddon Letters: Kennedy, Khrushchev, Castro in the Cuban Missile Crisis transports the reader back to October 1962, telling a story as gripping as any fictional apocalyptic novel.


   

Islam and Human Rights: Tradition and Politics by Ann Elizabeth Mayer
Boulder, Co.: Westview Press; London: Pinter Publishers, 1991
KBP2460 .M39 1991 Basement

This excellent work appears when many eyes are turned to Islamic societies undergoing resurgent commitment to the faith. Mayer's thesis is that Islamic human-rights schemes fall short of international standards of human rights, but that this is attributable to the derelictions of rulers seeking to stay in power rather than to intrinsic Islamic norms and values. The author (a specialist in Islamic law, Pennsylvania) believes that cultural relativism is inappropriately invoked by spokesmen for Islamic regimes, that in fact there is no demonstrated "authoritative, identifiably 'Islamic' cultural position on rights issues corresponding to official rationales offered for opposition to rights. . . ." Quite the contrary, ". . .the Islamic legal heritage is rich in elements that support principles of equality, freedom, democracy, and respect for human dignity. . . ." Authoritarian rulers, such as those in Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere, are unwilling to have their performances evaluated according to standards that, in Mayer's judgment, are truly universal. Rich in analysis and documentation, this book may be compared with Abdullahi al-Na'im's Toward nd Islamic Reformation: Civil Liberties, Human Rights and International Law (CH, Oct'90) and is essential for all those interested in the current Islamic revivalist movements, as well as for comparativists.-S. Akhavi, University of South Carolina


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Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion by Edward J. Larson
New York: BasicBooks, 1997
KF224.S3 L37 1997 Balcony

In the summer of 1925, the sleepy hamlet of Dayton, Tennessee, became the unlikely setting of one of our century’s most contentious dramas: the Scopes trial and the debate over science, religion, and their place in public education. This “trial of the century” not only cast Dayton into the national spotlight, it epitomized America’s ongoing struggle between individual liberty and majoritarian democracy. Now, with this authoritative and engaging book, Edward J. Larson examines the many facets of the Scopes trial and shows how its enduring legacy has crossed religious, cultural, educational, and political lines. The “Monkey Trial,” as it was playfully nicknamed, was instigated by the American Civil Liberties Union to challenge a controversial Tennessee law banning the teaching of human evolution in public schools. The Tennessee statute represented the first major victory for an intense national campaign against Darwinism, launched in the 1920s by Protestant fundamentalists and led by the famed politician and orator William Jennings Bryan. At the behest of the ACLU, a teacher named John Scopes agreed to challenge the statute, and what resulted was a trial of mythic proportions. Bryan joined the prosecutors and acclaimed criminal attorney Clarence Darrow led the defense—a dramatic legal matchup that spurred enormous media attention and later inspired the classic play Inherit the Wind. The Scopes trial marked a watershed in our national discussion of science and religion. In addition to symbolizing the clash between evolutionists and creationists, the trial helped shape the development of both popular religion and constitutional law in America, serving as a precedent for more recent legal and political battles. With new archival material from both the prosecution and the defense, paired with Larson’s keen historical and legal analysis, Summer for the Gods is poised to become a new classic on a pivotal milestone in American history.


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Injustice on Appeal: The United States Courts of Appeals in Crisis by William M. Richman and William L. Reynolds
Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2013
KF8750 .R53 2013 Balcony

The United States Circuit Courts of Appeals are among the most important governmental institutions in our society. However, because the Supreme Court can hear less than 150 cases per year, the Circuit Courts (with a combined caseload of over 60,000) are, for practical purposes, the courts of last resort for all but a tiny fraction of federal court litigation. Thus, their significance, both for ultimate dispute resolution and for the formation and application of federal law, cannot be overstated.
Yet, in the last forty years, a dramatic increase in caseload and a systemic resistance to an increased judgeship have led to a crisis. Signed published opinions form only a small percentage of dispositions; judges confer on fifty routine cases in an afternoon; and most litigants are denied oral argument completely.

In Injustice on Appeal: The United States Courts of Appeals in Crisis, William M. Richman and William L. Reynolds chronicle the transformation of the United States Circuit Courts; consider the merits and dangers of continued truncating procedures; catalogue and respond to the array of specious arguments against increasing the size of the judiciary; and consider several ways of reorganizing the circuit courts so that they can dispense traditional high quality appellate justice even as their caseloads and the number of appellate judgeships increase. The work serves as an analytical capstone to the authors' thirty years of research on the issue and will constitute a powerful piece of advocacy for a more responsible and egalitarian approach to caseload glut facing the circuit courts.


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Subversion and Sympathy: Gender, Law, and the British Novel edited by Martha C. Nussbaum and Alison L. Lacroix
New York: Oxford University Press, 2013
PR868.G35 S93 2013 Basement

This interdisciplinary volume of contributed essays focuses on issues of gender in the British novel of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, particularly Hardy and Trollope. Approaching the topic from a variety of backgrounds, the contributors reinvigorate the law-and-literature movement by displaying a range of ways in which literature and law can illuminate one another and in which the conversation between them can illuminate deeper human issues with which both disciplines are concerned. Their chapters shed light on a range of gender-related issues, from inheritance to money-lending to illegitimacy, but also make an important methodological contribution by displaying (and discussing) a range of methodological perspectives that exemplify the breadth and range of this discipline, which links history, gender studies, philosophy, literary studies, and law.


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Up Against a Wall: Rape Reform and the Failure of Success by Rose Corrigan
New York: New York University Press, 2013
KF9329 .C67 2013 Balcony

Rape law reform has long been hailed as one of the most successful projects of second-wave feminism. Yet forty years after the anti-rape movement emerged, legal and medical institutions continue to resist implementing reforms intended to provide more just and compassionate legal and medical responses to victims of sexual violence. In Up Against a Wall, Rose Corrigan draws on interviews with over 150 local rape care advocates in communities across the United States to explore how and why mainstream systems continue to resist feminist reforms. In a series of richly detailed case studies, the book weaves together scholarship on law and social movements, feminist theory, policy formation and implementation, and criminal justice to show how the innovative legal strategies employed by anti-rape advocates actually undermined some of their central claims. But even as its more radical elements were thwarted, pieces of the rape law reform project were seized upon by conservative policy-makers and used to justify new initiatives that often prioritize the interests and rights of criminal justice actors or medical providers over the needs of victims.


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Twilight of the Elites: America after Meritocracy by Christopher Hayes
New York: Crown Publishers, 2012
HN90.E4 H39 2012 Basement

A powerful and original argument that traces the roots of our present crisis of authority to an unlikely source: the meritocracy. Over the past decade, Americans watched in bafflement and rage as one institution after another --- from Wall Street to Congress, the Catholic Church to corporate America, even Major League Baseball --- imploded under the weight of corruption and incompetence. In the wake of the Fail Decade, Americans have historically low levels of trust in their institutions; the social contract between ordinary citizens and elites lies in tatters. How did we get here? With Twilight of the Elites, Christopher Hayes offers a radically novel answer. Since the 1960s, as the meritocracy elevated a more diverse group of men and women into power, they learned to embrace the accelerating inequality that had placed them near the very top. Their ascension heightened social distance and spawned a new American elite--one more prone to failure and corruption than any that came before it. Mixing deft political analysis, timely social commentary, and deep historical understanding, Twilight of the Elites describes how the society we have come to inhabit --- utterly forgiving at the top and relentlessly punitive at the bottom --- produces leaders who are out of touch with the people they have been trusted to govern. Hayes argues that the public's failure to trust the federal government, corporate America, and the media has led to a crisis of authority that threatens to engulf not just our politics but our day-to-day lives. Upending well-worn ideological and partisan categories, Hayes entirely reorients our perspective on our times. Twilight of the Elites is the defining work of social criticism for the post-bailout age.