Speaking out without talking down, Breyer renders a signal service to his fellow citizens.

MAKING OUR DEMOCRACY WORK

A JUDGE'S VIEW

For the general reader, a sitting Justice explains how the Supreme Court won the public trust and what it must do to keep it.

Employing a succession of cases from Marbury v. Madison to Bush v. Gore, Breyer (Active Liberty: Interpreting Our Democratic Constitution, 2005) offers a short, highly accessible course on the evolution of judicial review, the doctrine permitting the Court to invalidate laws conflicting with the Constitution. Although history and tradition explain how the Court’s decisions and interpretations have earned deference from public officials and acceptance from the citizenry, preserving that hard-won, critical role in our democracy, the author insists, requires the Court to issue decisions that ensure the Constitution works in practice. Rejecting originalism, political or subjective preferences, he argues for a pragmatic interpretation of the Constitution that looks first to the purposes and consequences of the law and relies on strength of reasoning for persuasion. Applying an 18th-century document to the unanticipated controversies of the modern nation or divining the meaning of frequently incomplete or silent statutes is rarely simple. The merits of any single case aside, the Court must also take into account a variety of legal doctrines, properly respect the expertise and prerogatives of the other governmental branches and avoid insult to state and inferior U.S. courts in our federal system, all in the service of forging decisions acceptable to the country. In a passage on the Court’s special province, protecting individual rights, Breyer takes us through a judge’s thinking—how he identifies the enduring value in a constitutional provision and applies it to particular facts. The author concludes with a comparison of the infamous Korematsu decision approving the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II with the four recent Guantánamo cases, in which the Court adopted a more workable approach, even during a time of serious national threat, to protect constitutional values.

Speaking out without talking down, Breyer renders a signal service to his fellow citizens.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-307-26991-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2010

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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