"The Bill of Rights stands as the high temple of our constitutional order--America's Parthenon--and yet we lack a clear view of it," Akhil Reed Amar writes in his introduction to The Bill of Rights
. "Instead of being studied holistically, the Bill has been broken up ... with each segment examined in isolation." With The Bill of Rights
, Amar aims to put the pieces back together and take a longer view of a document few Americans truly understand. Part history of the Bill, part analysis of what the Founding Fathers' intentions really were, this book provides a unique interpretation of the Constitution. It is Amar's hypothesis that, contrary to popular belief, the Bill of Rights was not originally constructed to protect the minority against the majority, but rather to empower popular majorities. It wasn't until 19th-century post-Civil War reconstruction and the introduction of the 14th Amendment that the notion of individual rights took hold. Prior to that, the various amendments to the Constitution that make up the Bill of Rights were more about the structure
of government and designed to protect citizens against a self-interested regime. Yet so great has been the impact of the 14th Amendment on modern legal thought that the Bill's original intentions have almost been forgotten.
Through skillful interpretation and solid research, Amar both reconstructs the original thinking of the Founding Fathers and chronicles the radical changes that have occurred since the inclusion of the 14th Amendment in the Bill of Rights. The results make for provocative reading no matter where you stand on the political spectrum.
From Library Journal
The author (law, Yale Univ.) reminds us of the impact, flexibility, and timeliness of the Bill of Rights, the constitution within the Constitution that guarantees personal rights and shields individual freedoms from authoritarian encroachment. Amar's historical analysis enables the reader to appreciate the countermajoritarian nature of the document over time. The author's hypothesis seems to be that the Bill of Rights stands as an eternal bulwark against governmental oppression, especially the tyranny of the legislative majority. In this context, the demands of the Anti-Federalists at the 1787 Constitutional Convention for the security of individual rights and the protection of state governments dovetail with the post-Civil War legislation of the Reconstruction Congress intended to stamp out antebellum laws and discriminatory Black Codes. Amar goes to great pains to show how the 14th Amendment forced the states to apply fairly and evenly the freedoms and protections they had so ardently demanded during the post-Revolutionary era. He places legal milestones in an understandable perspective, thus making the reading accessible to a general academic audience.APhillip Young Blue, New York State Supreme Court Criminal Branch Lib., New York
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