BookTalk

  • 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.”

  • February 7, 2013
    BookTalk
    Renewal
    Remaking America's Schools for the Twenty-First Century
    By: 
    Harold Kwalwasser

    by Harold Kwalwasser, the former General Counsel of the Los Angeles Unified School District. He currently writes and consults on education policy from Washington, DC.

    I wrote my new book on education reform, Renewal, Remaking America’s Schools for the 21st Century, to address two concerns. One was that the legislative solutions being proposed when I decided to write the book (back in 2009), many of which have now been adopted, are not likely to bring about the reforms intended. 

    The second concern was that parents and community leaders needed to be encouraged to get more involved in school and school district governance. But encouraging them without giving them a handbook about what to do is a waste – or worse. It may create activists, but of the “bull-in-the-china-shop” variety, who are likely to do as much harm as good.

    The research for the book centered on my visits to forty high performing and transforming school districts, charters, private and parochial schools. After almost two hundred interviews with administrators, teachers, school board members, and others, the case for heightened parental and community involvement is clear and compelling. These people’s stories also re-affirmed my belief that legislative fixes from Washington or some state capital, no matter how well crafted, are likely to have only a limited impact in building the kind of schools we want to see.

     

  • January 17, 2013
    BookTalk
    Priests of Our Democracy
    The Supreme Court, Academic Freedom, and the Anti-Communist Purge
    By: 
    Marjorie Heins

    by Marjorie Heins, director of the Free Expression Policy Project, adjunct professor at New York University, and author of  Not in Front of the Children: Indecency, Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth. Her latest book is Priests of Our Democracy: The Supreme Court, Academic Freedom, and the Anti-Communist Purge.


    Academic freedom is not as obvious a concept nowadays as it seemed when the Supreme Court first incorporated it into the First Amendment in response to McCarthy era investigations and purges of left-wing teachers and professors. Why, after all, should academics have privileges not given to workers in other jobs? Surely, academic freedom would not protect the instructor who is incompetent -- who denies the Holocaust in a history class, for example, or preaches creationism instead of teaching evolution in Biology 101.

    The idea of academic freedom emerged more than a century ago, when professors who supported union organizing and other social causes were losing their jobs because corporate-dominated boards of trustees did not like their politics. One of the best-publicized firings was of the young professor Scott Nearing from the University of Pennsylvania. In response, prominent scholars got together and founded the American Association of University Professors (the AAUP). The AAUP’s 1915 “Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure” argued that universities are different from businesses and professors are therefore different from other employees. The freedom they need in their teaching, research, and “extramural” speech (such as Scott Nearing’s advocacy for socialism and against child labor) are not matters of personal privilege but of broad public interest.

    Or, as Justice Felix Frankfurter put it in a 1952 case, teachers are “the priests of our democracy” because it is their special task “to foster those habits of open-mindedness and critical inquiry which alone make for responsible citizens.” It’s this notion that education is not just about rote learning but about “habits of open-mindedness and critical inquiry” that makes teachers essential to democracy.

    But lofty ideals are vulnerable to political realities and, consumed by the Cold War tensions of the 1950s, most American schools and universities decided that academic freedom should not protect teachers suspected of communist sympathies unless they cooperated with loyalty investigations by renouncing their past political errors and “naming names” of others they had known in the radical movements of the 1930s and ‘40s.

  • December 20, 2012
    BookTalk
    Brandishing the First Amendment
    Commercial Expression in America
    By: 
    Tamara R. Piety

    by Professor Tamara R. Piety, Associate Dean of Faculty Development and Professor of Law, University of Tulsa College of Law


     

    The Supreme Court has been very active on the First Amendment in the last few years. In 2010 it issued Citizens United, a controversial and unpopular decision which announced a robust vision of the role of corporate personhood. According to the New York Times, “[t]he First Amendment dominated” the 2011 term as well when the Court decided, among other cases, Brown v. Entertainment Merchantsa decision striking downa California statute which attempted to restrict the sale of violent videos to children, and Sorrell v. IMS Health, a decision striking down a Vermont statute which attempted to limit the sale of physician prescriber information for marketing purposes without the doctor’s permission on First Amendment grounds.  These cases, and others, taken together reflect a distinct trend, in the Supreme Court and elsewhere, toward greater protection for commercial speech. This trend is the subject my new book, Brandishing the First Amendment: Commercial Expression in America (U.  of Michigan Press, 2012). In Brandishing the First Amendment I discuss the way in which increased First Amendment protection for commercial speech has provided the intellectual foundation for increased protection for corporate political speech, which has, in turn been then used to argue for greater protection for commercial speech, thereby turning the First Amendment into a sort of all-purpose weapon against a variety of governmental regulations.            

    This is a troubling development because it is difficult to meaningfully and effectively regulate commerce if you cannot regulate commercial speech. This new and robust commercial speech doctrine threatens to undermine a good deal of the basic regulatory regime legitimized since the New Deal.In Brandishing the First Amendment I look at the various theories that have been offered for why we might want to protect freedom of expression, using as a starting point the work of the late Yale law professor

    Thomas Emerson, in particular his book Toward a General Theory of the First Amendment, and conclude that none of interests that freedom of expression is meant to protect are particularly advanced, if at all, by protecting commercial speech.  To the contrary, I argue there is good reason to suppose that offering robust protection to commercial speech may well undermine the very interests the protection for freedom of expression is thought to advance.

    In Brandishing the First Amendment I draw on work in marketing research, psychology, behavioral economics, and professional and academic work in marketing and public relations to explore marketing practices and how they work and how marketers,  driven by the imperatives of the market, may engage in promotional practices that are contrary to the public health and welfare. I also explore the attributes of corporate “personhood” as dictated by principles of corporate law and argue that an examination of all of these elements suggests that full First Amendment protection for commercial expression is likely to exacerbate many of the pressing social problems of our times, from changing consumption patterns to ameliorate global climate change to protecting the public from unsafe pharmaceutical drugs; from reining in unsafe promotional practices in the consumer credit market to regulating the sale of securities.  Those interested in the interaction of the First Amendment, commerce, commercialism, and corporate influence in modern life will want to read this book.