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America's Supreme Court: Making Democracy Work

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A long-term liberal voice on the current US Supreme Court, Justice Breyer provides an insider's introduction to the Court and its political role. Examining key decisions made by the Court, he presents his views on how a constitutional court should fulfil its function as final interpreter of a democratic constitution.


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A long-term liberal voice on the current US Supreme Court, Justice Breyer provides an insider's introduction to the Court and its political role. Examining key decisions made by the Court, he presents his views on how a constitutional court should fulfil its function as final interpreter of a democratic constitution.

31 review for America's Supreme Court: Making Democracy Work

  1. 4 out of 5

    David Donaldson

    A good intro to the US Supreme Court. As someone unfamiliar with the American legal system and fairly unfamiliar with American history, I found it interesting. Breyer runs through some important constitutional cases and their legal significance and historical context. He also outlines a seemingly very sensible alternative to the 'originalist' school of constitutional interpretation advocated by Scalia and others. He argues it's impossible to come up with a single, coherent theory, but suggests, f A good intro to the US Supreme Court. As someone unfamiliar with the American legal system and fairly unfamiliar with American history, I found it interesting. Breyer runs through some important constitutional cases and their legal significance and historical context. He also outlines a seemingly very sensible alternative to the 'originalist' school of constitutional interpretation advocated by Scalia and others. He argues it's impossible to come up with a single, coherent theory, but suggests, for example, the courts need to consider the basic values and purpose behind the constitution and statutes where the law is unclear, rather than adopting the grammatical approach, severed of context, that some prefer. Likewise instead if trying to divine the exact intentions and sociological/historical conditions at the time when the constitution was written long ago, justices should consider how the underlying values apply to today's society. Take gun control, for example. The second amendment reads: "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." While some prefer the literalist interpretation focusing mostly on the second half of the sentence, Breyer argues the original reason the right to bear arms was not to be infringed was out of concern state militias would be shut down, i.e. that the people would lose their ability to self-defend. Following this line of argument, contemporary, particularly urban, gun control does not infringe on the existence of collective self defence in the form of state militias, and arguably does not infringe individual self defence, given the existence of a police force, the danger of gun ownership etc etc.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Phillip Taylor

    BOOK REVIEW AMERICA’S SUPREME COURT Making Democracy Work by Stephen Breyer Oxford University Press ISBN: 978-0-19-960673-3 www.oup.com BUILD TRUST – RETAIN POWER: HOW THE AMERICAN SUPREME COURT REALLY WORKS An appreciation by Phillip Taylor MBE and Elizabeth Taylor of Richmond Green Chambers Written by a judge for lawyers and non-lawyers alike, this book sets out to explain what the American Supreme Court does and how it works. Breyer meets these aims brilliantly! In considering the recent creation of a BOOK REVIEW AMERICA’S SUPREME COURT Making Democracy Work by Stephen Breyer Oxford University Press ISBN: 978-0-19-960673-3 www.oup.com BUILD TRUST – RETAIN POWER: HOW THE AMERICAN SUPREME COURT REALLY WORKS An appreciation by Phillip Taylor MBE and Elizabeth Taylor of Richmond Green Chambers Written by a judge for lawyers and non-lawyers alike, this book sets out to explain what the American Supreme Court does and how it works. Breyer meets these aims brilliantly! In considering the recent creation of a Supreme Court in the UK which replaced the House of Lords as the court of final appeal, the publication of this volume in the UK by the Oxford University Press is nothing if not timely and welcome. The author, Stephen Breyer – an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court – offers the authoritative comment of the indisputably knowledgeable insider. Reading through the text certain increased our understanding, not only of the workings of the American Supreme Court, but of American politics and political history as well. No specialist legal knowledge is required to grasp the essence of this book -- only a desire to understand the role of what the publishers term ‘one of the most controversial and powerful judicial bodies in the world.’ Controversial? Yes, more than a few of the court’s decisions have been so, the most notorious being the infamous Dred Scott decision some 150 years ago, which only served to entrench racial discrimination in many parts of the USA, so much so that it’s often blamed as the catalyst which led to the American Civil War. The book covers the background and the aftermath of this decision very well. In the ‘Little Rock’ case, however, about 100 years later, the Court in our view, redeemed itself in one of the landmark decisions which led to the de-segregation of schools nationwide and eventually to the success, for the most part, of the civil rights movement. The book deals objectively with a number of other pivotal and more contemporary issues as well, including Guantanamo Bay, which is an added bonus for the international jurisprudent. Like any human institution, the American Supreme Court is not infallible. But despite its flaws, it remains a paradigm of how a judicial body has augmented its power by maintaining trust in a huge, diverse and complex nation. Taking a global perspective, what is really controversial is that many, or most other countries, don’t have a Supreme Court of this stature at all – which includes the UK of course, up to the back end of 2009. Breyer certainly strikes a responsive chord, following recent events in the Middle East with his comment that ‘in earlier times both here and abroad, individuals and communities settled their differences not in courtrooms under the law, but on the streets with violence…. Americans treasure the customs and institutions that have helped us find the better way.’ The Supreme Court’s powers to ‘interpret the [US] constitution authoritatively and to strike down as unconstitutional, laws enacted by Congress’ took a long time in coming. This book’s description of the process and the journey is simple and compelling. Breyer is adept at explaining issues of mind boggling complexity in the language of the layman. In the light of its subtitle, this important book does a creditable job of explaining how America’s Supreme Court continues in its role of ‘making democracy work’, to build trust and retain power and make democracy work.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jacob

  4. 5 out of 5

    Henry Silver

  5. 5 out of 5

    Joris van de Riet

  6. 5 out of 5

    James

  7. 4 out of 5

    Annie

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    Lisa

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    Larry

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    Corinne Travis

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    Heimalis_

  12. 5 out of 5

    Eddie

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    Arlene

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    Katie

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    Christina

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    Filani Alexlarry

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    Zach

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    Chris Gonyea

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    Lili Byce

  20. 4 out of 5

    Wendy Richardson

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    Ciara

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    Mike Todd

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    Jeffrey Adelman

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    Nicole

  25. 4 out of 5

    Baobab

  26. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Casebolt

  27. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Aedyn River

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Alexander

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ann

  30. 4 out of 5

    Paul Leahy

  31. 5 out of 5

    Kenneth

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