Designing Democracy: What Constitutions Do

Oxford University Press
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"In modern nations, political disagreement is the source of both the gravest danger and the greatest security," writes Cass Sunstein. All democracies face intense political conflict. But is this conflict necessarily something to fear? In this provocative book, one of our leading political and legal theorists reveals how a nation's divisions of conviction and belief can be used to safeguard democracy. Confronting one explosive political issue after another, from presidential impeachment to the limits of religious liberty, from discrimination against women and gays to the role of the judiciary, Sunstein constructs a powerful new perspective from which to show how democracies negotiate their most divisive real-world problems. He focuses on a series of concrete concerns that go to the heart of the relationship between the idea of democracy and the idea of constitutionalism. Illustrating his discussion with examples from constitutional debates and court-cases in South Africa, Eastern Europe, Israel, America, and elsewhere, Sunstein takes readers through a number of highly charged questions: When should government be permitted to control discriminatory behavior by or within religious organizations? Does it make sense to govern on the basis of popular referenda? Can the right to have an abortion be defended? Can we defend Internet regulation? Should the law step in if children are being schooled in discriminatory preferences and beliefs? Should a constitution protect rights to food, shelter, and health care? Disputes over questions such as these can be fierce enough to pose a grave threat. But in a paradox whose elaboration forms the core of Sunstein's book, it is a nation's apparently threatening diversity of opinion that can ensure its integrity. Extending his important recent work on the way deliberation within like-minded groups can produce extremism, Sunstein breaks new ground in identifying the mechanisms behind political conflict in democratic nations. At the same time, he develops a profound understanding of a constitutional democracy's system of checks and balances. Sunstein shows how a good constitution, fostering a "republic of reasons," enables people of opposing ethical and religious commitments to reach agreement where agreement is necessary, while making it unnecessary to reach agreement when agreement is impossible. A marvel of lucid, subtle reasoning, DESIGNING DEMOCRACY makes invaluable reading for anyone concerned with the promises and pitfalls of the democratic experiment.
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About the author

Cass Sunstein is Karl Llewellyn Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago Law School and Department of Political Science. His many books include Republic.com, One Case at a Time: Judicial Minimalism on the Supreme Court, Free Markets and Social Justice, Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech, and The Partial Constitution. He has advised many nations on constitution-making and law reform initiatives, including Ukraine, South Africa, China, Bosnia, Israel, Russia, and Poland. A former law clerk to Justice Thurgood Marshall and a former Attorney-Advisor in the Department of Justice, he has testified before Congress on many issues, including free speech in the media, separation of powers, discriminations against gays in the military, and presidential impeachment. He served on the President's Advisory Committee on the Public Service Obligation of Television Broadcasters and is a frequent contributor to The New Republic and The New York Times Book Review.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Oxford University Press
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Published on
Sep 27, 2001
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Pages
296
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ISBN
9780195349245
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Language
English
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Genres
Law / Constitutional
Political Science / History & Theory
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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The future of the U.S. Supreme Court hangs in the balance like never before. Will conservatives or liberals succeed in remaking the court in their own image? In A Constitution of Many Minds, acclaimed law scholar Cass Sunstein proposes a bold new way of interpreting the Constitution, one that respects the Constitution's text and history but also refuses to view the document as frozen in time.

Exploring hot-button issues ranging from presidential power to same-sex relations to gun rights, Sunstein shows how the meaning of the Constitution is reestablished in every generation as new social commitments and ideas compel us to reassess our fundamental beliefs. He focuses on three approaches to the Constitution--traditionalism, which grounds the document's meaning in long-standing social practices, not necessarily in the views of the founding generation; populism, which insists that judges should respect contemporary public opinion; and cosmopolitanism, which looks at how foreign courts address constitutional questions, and which suggests that the meaning of the Constitution turns on what other nations do.


Sunstein demonstrates that in all three contexts a "many minds" argument is at work--put simply, better decisions result when many points of view are considered. He makes sense of the intense debates surrounding these approaches, revealing their strengths and weaknesses, and sketches the contexts in which each provides a legitimate basis for interpreting the Constitution today.


This book illuminates the underpinnings of constitutionalism itself, and shows that ours is indeed a Constitution, not of any particular generation, but of many minds.

A unique multidisciplinary approach characterizes the leading Constitutional Law. A variety of critical and social perspectives draw on political theory, philosophy, sociology, ethics, history, and economics to give a contemporary look at constitutional law within its traditional doctrinal structure. A mixture of lightly and more heavily edited cases allows close analysis while providing a broad array of important opinions and pivotal cases. Extensive material summarizes the state of the law and its development. Constitutional Law"ideal for two-semester courses" follows a logical two-part organization, beginning with the balance of powers among the Supreme Court and local, state, and federal governments and moving to the rights and powers of individuals. The excellent coverage of First Amendment law is clear and concise, and a distinct annual supplement separates First Amendment materials from the rest for ease of research.

The Seventh Edition presents new material on originalism and the right to bear arms; incorporation and the Second Amendment; and Libya and the War Powers Resolution. Full, analytic treatment of the Supreme Court's decisions in the Affordable Care Act is presented. Coverage of the preemption doctrine is expanded. A new discussion of the Religion Clauses' treatment considers church autonomy in light of Hosanna-Tabor. The text on freedom of expression has been revised to incorporate new cases such as Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (on campaign finance regulation), Snyder v. Phelps (on intentional infliction of emotional distress), Brown v. Entertainment Merchants’ Ass'n (on violent video games), FCC v. Fox Television Stations (on expletives in broadcasting), and United States v. Alvarez (on criminal liability for lying about receiving medals of honor.) New material on privacy and the Internet brings the Seventh Edition completely up to date.

The most glamorous and even glorious moments in a legal system come when a high court recognizes an abstract principle involving, for example, human liberty or equality. Indeed, Americans, and not a few non-Americans, have been greatly stirred--and divided--by the opinions of the Supreme Court, especially in the area of race relations, where the Court has tried to revolutionize American society. But these stirring decisions are aberrations, says Cass R. Sunstein, and perhaps thankfully so. In Legal Reasoning and Political Conflict, Sunstein, one of America's best known commentators on our legal system, offers a bold, new thesis about how the law should work in America, arguing that the courts best enable people to live together, despite their diversity, by resolving particular cases without taking sides in broader, more abstract conflicts. Sunstein offers a close analysis of the way the law can mediate disputes in a diverse society, examining how the law works in practical terms, and showing that, to arrive at workable, practical solutions, judges must avoid broad, abstract reasoning. Why? For one thing, critics and adversaries who would never agree on fundamental ideals are often willing to accept the concrete details of a particular decision. Likewise, a plea bargain for someone caught exceeding the speed limit need not--indeed, must not--delve into sweeping issues of government regulation and personal liberty. Thus judges purposely limit the scope of their decisions to avoid reopening large-scale controversies. Sunstein calls such actions incompletely theorized agreements. In identifying them as the core feature of legal reasoning--and as a central part of constitutional thinking in America, South Africa, and Eastern Europe-- he takes issue with advocates of comprehensive theories and systemization, from Robert Bork (who champions the original understanding of the Constitution) to Jeremy Bentham, the father of utilitarianism, and Ronald Dworkin, who defends an ambitious role for courts in the elaboration of rights. Equally important, Sunstein goes on to argue that it is the living practice of the nation's citizens that truly makes law. For example, he cites Griswold v. Connecticut, a groundbreaking case in which the Supreme Court struck down Connecticut's restrictions on the use of contraceptives by married couples--a law that was no longer enforced by prosecutors. In overturning the legislation, the Court invoked the abstract right of privacy; the author asserts that the justices should have appealed to the narrower principle that citizens need not comply with laws that lack real enforcement. By avoiding large-scale issues and values, such a decision could have led to a different outcome in Bowers v. Hardwick, the decision that upheld Georgia's rarely prosecuted ban on sodomy. And by pointing to the need for flexibility over time and circumstances, Sunstein offers a novel understanding of the old ideal of the rule of law. Legal reasoning can seem impenetrable, mysterious, baroque. This book helps dissolve the mystery. Whether discussing the interpretation of the Constitution or the spell cast by the revolutionary Warren Court, Cass Sunstein writes with grace and power, offering a striking and original vision of the role of the law in a diverse society. In his flexible, practical approach to legal reasoning, he moves the debate over fundamental values and principles out of the courts and back to its rightful place in a democratic state: the legislatures elected by the people.
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