The Conservative Assault on the Constitution

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Over the last few decades, the Supreme Court and the federal appellate courts have undergone a dramatic shift to the right, the result of a determined effort by right-wing lawmakers and presidents to reinterpret the Constitution by reshaping the judiciary. Conservative activist justices have narrowed the scope of the Constitution, denying its protections to millions of Americans, exactly as the lawmakers who appointed and confirmed these jurists intended. Basic long-standing principles of constitutional law have been overturned by the Rehnquist and Roberts courts. As distinguished law professor and constitutional expert Erwin Chemerinsky demonstrates in this invaluable book, these changes affect the lives of every American.

As a result of political pressure from conservatives and a series of Supreme Court decisions, our public schools are increasingly separate and unequal, to the great disadvantage of poor and minority students. Right-wing politicians and justices are dismantling the wall separating church and state, allowing ever greater government support for religion. With the blessing of the Supreme Court, absurdly harsh sentences are being handed down to criminal defendants, such as life sentences for shoplifting and other petty offenses. Even in death penalty cases, defendants are being denied the right to competent counsel at trial, and as a result innocent people have been convicted and sentenced to death. Right-wing politicians complain that government is too big and intrusive while at the same time they are only too happy to insert the government into the most intimate aspects of the private lives of citizens when doing so conforms to conservative morality. Conservative activist judges say that the Constitution gives people an inherent right to own firearms but not to make their own medical decisions. In some states it is easier to buy an assault rifle than to obtain an abortion.

Nowhere has the conservative assault on the Constitution been more visible or more successful than in redefining the role of the president. From Richard Nixon to George W. Bush, conservatives have sought to significantly increase presidential power. The result in recent years has been unprecedented abuses, including indefinite detentions, illegal surveillance, and torture of innocent people.

Finally, access to the courts is being restricted by new rulings that deny legal protections to ordinary Americans. Fewer lawsuits alleging discrimination in employment are heard; fewer people are able to sue corporations or governments for injuries they have suffered; and even when these cases do go to trial, new restrictions limit damages that plaintiffs can collect.

The first step in reclaiming the protections of the Constitution, says Chemerinsky, is to recognize that right-wing justices are imposing their personal prejudices, not making neutral decisions about the scope of the Constitution, as they claim, or following the "original meaning" of the Constitution. Only then do we stand a chance of reclaiming our constitutional liberties from a rigid ideological campaign that has transformed our courts and our laws. Only then can we return to a constitutional law that advances freedom and equality.
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About the author

Erwin Chemerinsky is the founding dean of the University of California Irvine Law School. He is a graduate of Northwestern University and Harvard Law School. After teaching law at DePaul College of Law, he moved to the University of Southern California, where he taught from 1983 to 2004. He frequently argued cases before the U.S. Court of Appeals in various jurisdictions and occasionally before the U.S. Supreme Court. He is well known in Los Angeles, where he helped draft a new city charter (he chaired the charter commission), issued a report on the city's police department, and commented on the O.J. Simpson trial. From 2004 to 2008 he taught at Duke University School of Law, before returning to southern California to start the law school at UCI.

He is the author of Constitutional Law: Principles and Policies, a widely used law school textbook.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Simon and Schuster
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Published on
Sep 28, 2010
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Pages
336
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ISBN
9781451606355
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Language
English
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Genres
History / United States / 20th Century
Law / Constitutional
Political Science / Political Ideologies / Conservatism & Liberalism
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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`An army of principles will penetrate where an army of soldiers cannot . . . it will march on the horizon of the world and it will conquer.' Thomas Paine was the first international revolutionary. His Common Sense (1776) was the most widely read pamphlet of the American Revolution; his Rights of Man (1791-2) was the most famous defence of the French Revolution and sent out a clarion call for revolution throughout the world. He paid the price for his principles: he was outlawed in Britain, narrowly escaped execution in France, and was villified as an atheist and a Jacobin on his return to America. Paine loathed the unnatural inequalities fostered by the hereditary and monarchical systems. He believed that government must be by and for the people and must limit itself to the protection of their natural rights. But he was not a libertarian: from a commitment to natural rights he generated one of the first blueprints for a welfare state, combining a liberal order of civil rights with egalitarian constraints. This collection brings together Paine's most powerful political writings from the American and French revolutions in the first fully annotated edition of these works. ABOUT THE SERIES: For over 100 years Oxford World's Classics has made available the widest range of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford's commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, helpful notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more.
'A nation without a national government is an awful spectacle.' In the winter of 1787-8 a series of eighty-five essays appeared in the New York press; the purpose of the essays was to persuade the citizens of New York State to ratify the Constitution of the United States. The three authors - Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay - were respectively the first Secretary of the Treasury, the fourth President, and the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in American history. Each had played a crucial role in the events of the American Revolution; together they were convinced of the need to weld thirteen disparate and newly-independent states into a union. Their essays make the case for a new and united nation, governed under a written Constitution that endures to this day. The Federalist Papers are an indispensable guide to the intentions of the founding fathers who created the United States, and a canonical text in the development of western political thought. This new edition pays full attention to the classical learning of their authors and the historical examples they deploy. ABOUT THE SERIES: For over 100 years Oxford World's Classics has made available the widest range of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford's commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, helpful notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more.
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