The Supreme Court and Constitutional Democracy

Cornell University Press
Free sample

In The Supreme Court and Constitutional Democracy John Agresto traces the development of American judicial power, paying close attention to what he views as the very real threat of judicial supremacy. Agresto examines the role of the judiciary in a democratic society and discusses the proper place of congressional power in constitutional issues. Agresto argues that while the separation of congressional and judicial functions is a fundamental tenet of American government, the present system is not effective in maintaining an appropriate balance of power. He shows that continued judicial expansion, especially into the realm of public policy, might have severe consequences for America's national life and direction, and offers practical recommendations for safeguarding against an increasingly powerful Supreme Court. John Agresto's controversial argument, set in the context of a historical and theoretical inquiry, will be of great interest to scholars and students in political science and law, especially American constitutional law and political theory.
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About the author

John Agresto is the author of Mugged by Reality: The Liberation of Iraq and the Failure of Good Intentions and Rediscovering America: Liberty, Equality, and the Crisis of Demoracy.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Cornell University Press
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Published on
Oct 15, 2016
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Pages
192
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ISBN
9781501712906
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Language
English
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Genres
Law / Constitutional
Political Science / American Government / Judicial Branch
Political Science / Political Ideologies / Democracy
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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From Brown v. Board of Education to Roe v. Wade to Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court has, over the past fifty years, assumed an increasingly controversial place in American national political life. As the recurring struggles over nominations to the Court illustrate, few questions today divide our political community more profoundly than those concerning the Court's proper role as protector of liberties and guardian of the Constitution. If the nation is today in the midst of a "culture war," the contest over the Supreme Court is certainly one of its principal battlefields.

In this volume, distinguished constitutional scholars aim to move debate beyond the sound bites that divide the opposing parties to more fundamental discussions about the nature of constitutionalism. Toward this end, the volume includes chapters on the philosophical and historical origins of the idea of constitutionalism; on theories of constitutionalism in American history in particular; on the practices of constitutionalism around the globe; and on the parallel emergence of—and the persistent tensions between—constitutionalism and democracy throughout the modern world.

In democracies, the primary point of having a constitution is to place some matters beyond politics and partisan contest. And yet it seems equally clear that constitutionalism of this kind results in a struggle over the meaning or proper interpretation of the constitution, a struggle that is itself deeply political. Although the volume represents a variety of viewpoints and approaches, this struggle, which is the central paradox of constitutionalism, is the ultimate theme of all the essays.
The role of the United States Supreme Court has been deeply controversial throughout American history. Should the Court undertake the task of guarding a wide variety of controversial and often unenumerated rights? Or should it confine itself to enforcing specific constitutional provisions, leaving other issues (even those of rights) to the democratic process?

That Eminent Tribunal brings together a distinguished group of legal scholars and political scientists who argue that the Court's power has exceeded its appropriate bounds, and that sound republican principles require greater limits on that power. They reach this conclusion by an interesting variety of paths, and despite varied political convictions.


Some of the essays debate the explicit claims to constitutional authority laid out by the Supreme Court itself in Planned Parenthood v. Casey and similar cases, and others focus on the defenses of judicial authority found commonly in legal scholarship (e.g., the allegedly superior moral reasoning of judges, or judges' supposed track record of superior political decision making). The authors find these arguments wanting and contend that the principles of republicanism and the contemporary form of judicial review exercised by the Supreme Court are fundamentally incompatible.


The contributors include Hadley Arkes, Gerard V. Bradley, George Liebmann, Michael McConnell, Robert F. Nagel, Jack Wade Nowlin, Steven D. Smith, Jeremy Waldron, Keith E. Whittington, Christopher Wolfe, and Michael P. Zuckert.

The Supreme Court is one of the most extraordinary institutions in our system of government. Charged with the responsibility of interpreting the Constitution, the nine unelected justices of the Court have the awesome power to strike down laws enacted by our elected representatives. Why does the public accept the Court’s decisions as legitimate and follow them, even when those decisions are highly unpopular? What must the Court do to maintain the public’s faith? How can the Court help make our democracy work? These are the questions that Justice Stephen Breyer tackles in this groundbreaking book.

Today we assume that when the Court rules, the public will obey. But Breyer declares that we cannot take the public’s confidence in the Court for granted. He reminds us that at various moments in our history, the Court’s decisions were disobeyed or ignored. And through investigations of past cases, concerning the Cherokee Indians, slavery, and Brown v. Board of Education, he brilliantly captures the steps—and the missteps—the Court took on the road to establishing its legitimacy as the guardian of the Constitution.

Justice Breyer discusses what the Court must do going forward to maintain that public confidence and argues for interpreting the Constitution in a way that works in practice. He forcefully rejects competing approaches that look exclusively to the Constitution’s text or to the eighteenth-century views of the framers. Instead, he advocates a pragmatic approach that applies unchanging constitutional values to ever-changing circumstances—an approach that will best demonstrate to the public that the Constitution continues to serve us well. The Court, he believes, must also respect the roles that other actors—such as the president, Congress, administrative agencies, and the states—play in our democracy, and he emphasizes the Court’s obligation to build cooperative relationships with them.

Finally, Justice Breyer examines the Court’s recent decisions concerning the detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, contrasting these decisions with rulings concerning the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. He uses these cases to show how the Court can promote workable government by respecting the roles of other constitutional actors without compromising constitutional principles.

Making Our Democracy Work is a tour de force of history and philosophy, offering an original approach to interpreting the Constitution that judges, lawyers, and scholars will look to for many years to come. And it further establishes Justice Breyer as one of the Court’s greatest intellectuals and a leading legal voice of our time.
By the one-time federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, an important overview of the way our justice system works, and why the rule of law is essential to our society. Using case histories, personal experiences and his own inviting writing and teaching style, Preet Bharara shows the thought process we need to best achieve truth and justice in our daily lives and within our society.

Preet Bharara has spent much of his life examining our legal system, pushing to make it better, and prosecuting those looking to subvert it. Bharara believes in our system and knows it must be protected, but to do so, we must also acknowledge and allow for flaws in the system and in human nature.
The book is divided into four sections: Inquiry, Accusation, Judgment and Punishment. He shows why each step of this process is crucial to the legal system, but he also shows how we all need to think about each stage of the process to achieve truth and justice in our daily lives.
Bharara uses anecdotes and case histories from his legal career--the successes as well as the failures--to illustrate the realities of the legal system, and the consequences of taking action (and in some cases, not taking action, which can be just as essential when trying to achieve a just result).
Much of what Bharara discusses is inspiring--it gives us hope that rational and objective fact-based thinking, combined with compassion, can truly lead us on a path toward truth and justice. Some of what he writes about will be controversial and cause much discussion. Ultimately, it is a thought-provoking, entertaining book about the need to find the humanity in our legal system--and in our society.
From the prizewinning author of The Nine, a gripping insider's account of the momentous ideological war between the John Roberts Supreme Court and the Obama administration.

From the moment John Roberts, the chief justice of the United States, blundered through the Oath of Office at Barack Obama's inauguration, the relationship between the Supreme Court and the White House has been confrontational. Both men are young, brilliant, charismatic, charming, determined to change the course of the nation—and completely at odds on almost every major constitutional issue. One is radical; one essentially conservative. The surprise is that Obama is the conservative—a believer in incremental change, compromise, and pragmatism over ideology. Roberts—and his allies on the Court—seek to overturn decades of precedent: in short, to undo the ultimate victory FDR achieved in the New Deal.
   This ideological war will crescendo during the 2011-2012 term, in which several landmark cases are on the Court's docket—most crucially, a challenge to Obama's controversial health-care legislation. With four new justices joining the Court in just five years, including Obama's appointees Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, this is a dramatically—and historically—different Supreme Court, playing for the highest of stakes.
   No one is better positioned to chronicle this dramatic tale than Jeffrey Toobin, whose prize-winning bestseller The Nine laid bare the inner workings and conflicts of the Court in meticulous and entertaining detail. As the nation prepares to vote for President in 2012, the future of the Supreme Court will also be on the ballot.
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