While accessible to general readers with some familiarity with leading cases and justices of the past century, this...

CONSTITUTIONAL PERSONAE

HEROES, SOLDIERS, MINIMALISTS, AND MUTES

A novel approach to analyzing the majority and dissenting opinions of the Supreme Court.

In this slender volume, prolific legal writer Sunstein (Law/Harvard Univ.; Choosing Not to Choose: Understanding the Value of Choice, 2015, etc.) presents an original way of looking at the decisional postures of Supreme Court justices by characterizing them as assuming one of four personae. Heroes are willing to take bold action to overturn statutes and customs in response to perceived constitutional mandates. Soldiers are more deferential to the orders of the people as expressed through their elected representatives. Minimalists are open to change but prefer to accomplish it through small, incremental steps, building slowly on precedent. Mutes will use technical doctrines to avoid committing the court to any decision until public attitudes or the political process have moved the underlying issue further. No justice adopts the same persona consistently; a justice may tend to heroics in cases involving affirmative action, for example, but act as a soldier where abortion rights are at issue. While Sunstein believes that no persona is superior in all instances, he persuasively argues a preference for what he calls a "Burkean minimalist" as the persona that will most often produce sound decisions. Along the way, he includes illuminating discussions of theories of constitutional interpretation, doubts about the legitimacy of heroes invoking “abstract ideas about liberty or equality as anti-democratic swords," and clashes among the personae as revealed in the court's opinions. Carefully reasoned and clearly explained, Sunstein's approach offers a more insightful way of analyzing the positions of individual justices than resorting to simplistic ideologies or interpretive theories like "original meaning," which the author shows are of limited utility at best.

While accessible to general readers with some familiarity with leading cases and justices of the past century, this discussion will be of interest largely to law students, attorneys, and SCOTUS junkies.

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-19-022267-3

Page Count: 180

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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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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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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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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