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Freedom's Law: The Moral Reading of the American Constitution

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Freedom's Law: The Moral Reading of the American Constitution Cover

 

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Ronald Dworkin argues that Americans have been systematically misled about what their Constitution is, and how judges decide what it means. The Constitution, he observes, grants individual rights in extremely abstract terms. The First Amendment prohibits the passing of laws that "abridge the freedom of speech"; the Fifth Amendment insists on "due process of law"; and the Fourteenth Amendment demands "equal protection of the laws" for all persons. What does that abstract language mean when it is applied to the political controversies that divide Americans--about affirmative action and racial justice, abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, censorship, pornography, and homosexuality, for example? Judges, and ultimately the justices of the Supreme Court, must decide for everyone, and that gives them great power. How should they decide? Dworkin defends a particular answer to that question, which he calls the "moral reading" of the Constitution. He argues that the Bill of Rights must be understood as setting out general moral principles about liberty and equality and dignity, and that private citizens, lawyers, and finally judges must interpret and apply those general principles by posing and trying to answer more concrete moral questions. Is freedom to choose abortion really a basic moral right and would curtailing that right be a deep injustice, for example? Why? In the detailed discussions of individual constitutional issues that form the bulk of the book, Dworkin shows that our judges do decide hard constitutional cases by posing and answering such concrete moral questions. Indeed he shows that that is the only way they can decide those cases. But most judges--and most politicians and most law professors--pretend otherwise. They say that judges must never treat constitutional issues as moral issues because that would be "undemocratic"--it would mean that judges were substituting their own moral convictions for those of Congressmen and state legislators who had been elected by the people. So they insist that judges can, and should, decide in some more mechanical way which involves no fresh moral judgment on their part. The result, Dworkin shows, has been great constitutional confusion. Is the premise at the core of this confusion really sound? Is the moral reading--the only reading of the American Constitution that makes sense--really undemocratic? In spirited and illuminating discussions both of the great constitutional cases of recent years, and of general constitutional principles, Dworkin argues, to the contrary, that the distinctly American version of government under principle, based on the moral reading of the Constitution, is in fact the best account of what democracy really is.

About the Author

Ronald Dworkin is Frank Henry Sommer Professor of Law and Philosophy at New York University. He is the 2007 recipient of the Holberg International Memorial Prize.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction: The Moral Reading and the Majoritarian Premise
  • Part 1: Life, Death, and Race
    • 1. Roe in Danger
    • 2. Verdict Postponed
    • 3. What the Constitution Says
    • 4. Roe Was Saved
    • 5. Do We Have a Right to Die?
    • 6. Gag Rule and Affirmative Action
  • Part 2: Speech, Conscience, and Sex
    • 7. The Press on Trial
    • 8. Why Must Speech Be Free?
    • 9. Pornography and Hate
    • 10. MacKinnon’s Words
    • 11. Why Academic Freedom?
  • Part 3: Judges
    • 12. Bork: The Senate’s Responsibility
    • 13. What Bork’s Defeat Meant
    • 14. Bork’s Own Postmortem
    • 15. The Thomas Nomination
    • 16. Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas
    • 17. Learned Hand
  • Notes
  • Sources
  • Index

Product Details

ISBN:
9780674319288
Author:
Dworkin, Ronald D.
Publisher:
Harvard University Press
Author:
Dworkin, Ronald D.
Location:
Cambridge
Subject:
General
Subject:
United states
Subject:
United States - General
Subject:
History, theory and practice
Subject:
U.S. Government
Subject:
Jurisprudence
Subject:
Constitutional
Subject:
Constitution
Subject:
Government - U.S. Government
Subject:
Law | Constitutional Law
Subject:
Law-Constitutional
Subject:
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Ideologies/Democracy
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
April 1997
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
None
Pages:
416
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in 20 oz

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Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Law » Civil Liberties and Human Rights
History and Social Science » Law » Constitutional Law
History and Social Science » Law » General
History and Social Science » US History » General

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