BookTalk

  • June 6, 2013
    BookTalk
    Father, Son, and Constitution
    How Justice Tom Clark and Attorney General Ramsey Clark Shaped American Democracy
    By: 
    Alexander Wohl

    by Alexander Wohl. Mr. Wohl is an adjunct professor at American University Washington College of Law, speech writer in the federal government and a former Supreme Court Judicial Fellow. For more information about his new book on Justice Tom Clark and his son Attorney General Ramsey Clark, visit the Father, Son, and Constitution Facebook page.

    As the only father and son to serve as attorneys general of the United States, Tom and Ramsey Clark are an historically unique pair, a distinction made even more noteworthy by Justice Tom Clark’s decision to give up his seat on the Supreme Court in 1967 so that his son could become President Lyndon Johnson’s attorney general. The tag-team tenure in government of this father and son was an unprecedented shared proximity to power and policy influence during some of the most challenging, divisive, and triumphant periods in U.S. history, from World War II to the attacks of September 11, 2001. But their impact is more far-reaching. In combined careers of more than 100 years and lives spanning three centuries, the Clarks provide a useful lens through which to examine the complex relationship between government and individual citizens that has defined and shaped U.S. legal and social policy through the present day.

    At the heart of both Tom and Ramsey Clark’s work were many issues addressing this balance: the extent to which individuals should be prosecuted for “dangerous” speech or associations, when to use invasive law enforcement tools such as wiretapping, what type or duration of confinement constitutes unlawful detention, and the kind of role the federal government itself can or should play in the development of various policies and the enforcement of individual constitutional principles.

    On these and other thorny questions the Clarks at once offer a set of ideological bookends and proof that views can evolve over time, a combination largely absent in an environment today in which questions about law and policy increasingly lead to ideological stratification and decision makers ever more pigeonholed in their views. While Tom and Ramsey Clark had clear differences in their outlook and approach, they often found common ground on many issues, including gun control, juvenile crime, and civil rights, along the way learning from each other.

  • April 1, 2013
    BookTalk
    The Tough Luck Constitution and the Assault on Healthcare Reform
    By: 
    Andrew Koppelman

    by Andrew Koppelman, John Paul Stevens Professor of Law, Northwestern University Law School

    Last spring, the Supreme Court came within one vote of taking health insurance away from over 30 million people, exposing a dangerous intellectual trend that, simply put, threatens to hurt you and your family. The near-success of the constitutional arguments against the Affordable Care Act is scary news, because those arguments silently rely on a philosophy at war with the most fundamental purpose of the Constitution: to empower the American people to solve their most pressing problems.

    The ACA included an individual mandate to have insurance, because no other path to universal insurance was workable. Even Republicans had supported such a mandate for years. Universal health insurance logically means that everyone must have insurance. 

    The litigation depended on a different ideal, which we can call Tough Luck Libertarianism: any obligation of healthy people to contribute to care for the sick is an intolerable imposition on liberty; if you get sick and can’t pay for care, that’s your tough luck.

    The constitutional challenge was devised by conservative lawyers who had, for a long time, been eager to impose limits on Congressional power. They proposed a new and previously unheard-of constitutional rule:  the state can’t make you do things or buy things. It may regulate only those who engage in some self-initiated action.

    This action/inaction distinction came advertised as a great bulwark of liberty. Actually, it was a crude bit of political opportunism. No one can live in the world without engaging in self-initiated actions all the time. This rule is not a serious constraint on government power. It allows Congress to act in every case in which the citizen has voluntarily taken some action. Most of us can’t realistically avoid having jobs and buying things, and it’s not much consolation to be told that I can avoid oppression if I live in the woods and eat berries. This limitation is unlikely to have any application after the ACA litigation, and is patently tailored to bring about a desired result in a single case.

  • March 21, 2013
    BookTalk
    Unlearning Liberty
    Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate
    By: 
    Greg Lukianoff

    by Greg Lukianoff, an attorney and president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

    I went to law school with a particular passion in mind: the First Amendment and freedom of speech. Starting at Stanford in 1997, I took virtually every class the law school offered on the First Amendment, completed six additional credits on the origins of the legal theory of “prior restraint” in Tudor England, and worked for the ACLU of Northern California. I was nonetheless unprepared for the kind of censorship I would see on college campuses, first as legal director and then as president of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education(FIRE).

    My recent book, Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate, is my attempt to catalog a small fraction of the terrible cases I’ve seen over the last 11 years and to explain why college censorship matters both on and off campus.

    The cases of censorship I have seen over the years run from the absurd to the serious. I have covered these cases in great detail at The Huffington Post, where I’m a regular contributor, and have for the past two years dubbed some of the offenders the “worst colleges for freedom of speech.” On the high-end of the absurd cases are those involving cartoons, one case involving a quote from the beloved yet short-lived science-fiction series, Firefly, and a politically incorrect flyer that made a joke about the freshman 15, all of which I showcased in an article with the tongue-in-cheek name “Top 10 Pics Too Hot for Campus.”

    I open Unlearning Liberty talking about the currently ongoing legal saga that straddles the chasm between absurd and serious. The case involved a student, Hayden Barnes, who protested against his school, Valdosta State University in southern Georgia, for its decision to build two parking garages on campus. He went about protesting the parking garages by contacting the Board of Regents and writing a letter to the editor of the student newspaper.

  • March 7, 2013
    BookTalk
    Lawless Capitalism
    The Subprime Crisis and the Case for an Economic Rule of Law
    By: 
    Steven A. Ramirez

    by Steven A. Ramirez, Professor of Law, Loyola University Chicago, School of Law

    Too much power in too few hands presents dangers of despotism.

    Americans traditionally deemed concentrated and unaccountable political power suspect. The United States Constitution reflects this suspicion by splitting sovereign power among state and federal governments, and then dividing it again between three co-equal branches that provide checks and balances against overreaching by any government official.

    Yet, the Constitution fails to splinter concentrated economic power. While Congress may act to check economic concentration, in the end, brakes on economic concentration rise or fall based upon political negotiation. Congress cannot legislate a King; it may, however, permit financial consolidation to such an extent that big finance holds an unlimited claim on government resources.

    Since 1978, bipartisan legislation created unprecedented economic concentration.  Tax cuts led to the highest income inequality on record. Financial deregulation birthed the largest financial behemoths ever. Restraints governing managers of public corporations vanished, and CEO compensation soared. Predictably, as more wealth became concentrated in fewer hands, costs to organize to lobby lawmakers plunged.

  • February 21, 2013
    BookTalk
    Why Jury Duty Matters
    A Citizen's Guide to Constitutional Action
    By: 
    Andrew Guthrie Ferguson

    by Professor Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, assistant professor of law at the David A. Clarke School of Law at the University of the District of Columbia.

    Every year approximately 30 million American citizens get an invitation to constitutional action in the form of a jury summons. Most dread this core constitutional obligation. Forgotten is the jury’s connection to American history from the Declaration of Independence to the Civil Rights Movement. Ignored are the meaningful, foundational lessons of citizen-jurors over two centuries. 

    Why Jury Duty Matters: A Citizen's Guide to Constitutional Action (NYU Press 2013) was written to change that negative reaction to jury duty. This book is the first book written for jurors on jury duty and seeks to inspire an appreciation of this important American institution. It is a book that will make jury service personally meaningful and will strengthen constitutional literacy in America.

    This book does much of what ACS does – translate constitutional ideas so that ordinary people can understand the importance of the Constitution. As a trial lawyer for nine years, I watched jurors every day in the courthouse. I witnessed how they missed the constitutional value of jury service. This book was my gift back to those citizens, and to the millions of future jurors who will serve in the coming years. It is a how-to book for democratic practice. It is a primer on constitutional principles. It is an argument for reclaiming the central place juries have played in our society. Professor Neil Vidmar wrote, “Copies should be placed in the jury assembly rooms of every courthouse.” Professor Nancy Marder, Director of the Jury Center at Chicago-Kent College of Law recommended, “Every court should give prospective jurors a copy of this book so that they will understand the jury’s integral role in our democracy.”