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Making Our Democracy Work: A Judge's Viewby Stephen Breyer
Synopses & Reviews
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 Courts decisions as legitimate and follow them, even when those decisions are highly unpopular? What must the Court do to maintain the publics 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 publics confidence in the Court for granted. He reminds us that at various moments in our history, the Courts 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 Constitutions 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 Courts obligation to build cooperative relationships with them.
Finally, Justice Breyer examines the Courts 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 Courts greatest intellectuals and a leading legal voice of our time.
"Justice Breyer (Active Liberty) looks at how the Supreme Court evolved historically and defined its role largely in relation to the willingness of the public to embrace its decisions. Readers may be surprised to learn that in many democracies, parliaments are not bound to accept decisions by their court; similarly, the U.S. Constitution doesn't give the Supreme Court final say. Breyer tells the story of President Jackson's grudging acceptance of a Court decision protecting the treaty rights of the Cherokee nation, only to seize their land using Federal troops. In the Dred Scott decision, the pro-slavery Court violated the right of Free states to outlaw slavery. And in Brown vs. the Kansas Board of Education, President Eisenhower used the Army to back up Court decisions against segregated education. Breyer discusses recent Court decisions in favor of rights for Guantanamo detainees and examines the limitations of a President's power as Commander-in-Chief, even in wartime, contrasting this to the failure of the Court, Congress, and President Roosevelt over internment camps during WWII. An accomplished writer, Justice Breyer's absorbing stories offer insight into how a democracy works, and sometimes fails.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
Supreme Court Justice Breyer shares his original and accessible theory of the United States Supreme Court's responsibility and integrity. He illuminates key decisions with fascinating stories told from his unique perspective.
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