Customer Reviews: The Bill of Rights: Original Meaning and Current Understanding
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VINE VOICEon August 20, 2002
This book is an amazing study. The book is ordered by amendment (or clause.) Within each part, the first essay focuses on the amendments original meaning and early history and the last essay focuses on the amendment today. Buyer beware. It seems that there is definitely a bias towards original meaning here, as each finishing essay comes to the conclusion that we've strayed from that original intent. But bias or not, can you blame them.
Of course that opens up an interesting dilemma that is unexplored in this book. Yes, we have strayed from original meaning (we've even FORGOTTEN the tenth amendments existence!) but this is only negative if you subscribe to 'original meaning' jurisprudence. As an aside, it seems most legal scholars and jurisprudential thinkers do not. Even Scalia and Posner, supposed conservatives, reject it; Scalia calling it 'the lesser evil.' This book assumes that readers share sympathy with original intent.
Where this book DOES prove its worth is in the attention payed to the fourth, fifth, ninth and tenth amendments- all of which are sadly neglected in legal dialogue of today. In fact, my favorite four essays were the ones focusing on amendments nine and ten.
So overall, this book's quality is high. On the whole, the essays are well written and exciting. But whether or not you've made up your mind on original meaning vs. broad principle jurisprudence, do check out "Interpreting the Constitution" edited by Jack Rakove.
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on September 25, 2000
Anyone involved in law or public policy must read this book. Hickok, perhaps one of the leading political scientists of our time, brilliantly describes the origin of the Bill of Rights, what it meant to the early Americans, and how we should understand it today. It's not often that you have a guide to take you back in history to such an important time and to look at the historical context of a document as crucial as the Bill of Rights!
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This book contains a series of essays on the U.S. Bill of Rights, all of which resulted from eight conferences conducted by the Center for Judicial Studies from 1985 to ‘87. At that time, the rising Conservative critique of the judicial activism displayed by the U.S. Supreme Court, resulted in a demand that the Court cease “finding” new rights under the Constitution by interpreting the Constitution using the original intent of the authors of the document. The issue finally came to a head when President Ronald Reagan nominated Originalist Judge Robert H. Bork to the Supreme Court in 1987.

This book is, in many ways, a polemic against “original intent,” with just about every essay arguing against it at some point or other. Indeed, as the editor says, in the Introduction, “The purpose of these essays, in sum, is to contribute to the ongoing debate over constitutional interpretation and the proper role of ‘original intent’ in the determining of what the Constitution means and in resolving contemporary constitutional questions.”

However, that said, this book is so much more than just an attack on original intent. It does give an excellent history of how the various amendments in the Bill of Rights have been interpreted and used throughout the history of the United States. Personally, I found the essays on the Tenth Amendment to be extremely interesting.

Now, twenty-plus years are a lifetime in terms of Supreme Court rulings, and much has changed in that time. Judicial activism has taken on new forms, with justices using foreign laws to trump American precedence, and with Kelo v. City of New London turning the Fifth Amendment in an entirely new and disturbing direction. As such, in certain ways, some of the arguments made within this book are already out-of-date, and no longer apply.

But, that said, I did find this to be an interesting and highly informative read. Indeed, while you might expect this book to be dry and academic in tone, it is does in fact keep your interest, informing you but never boring you.
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on January 5, 2014
Because of all of the judicial activism going on today, we can usually see what the current understanding is of the Bill of Rights. I bought this book to try to gain a better understanding of the original meaning which I thought the book explained very well. Too bad our judges and legislators don't have a better understanding of original intent. For me, this was not an easy read and was probably geared much more to lawyers or pre-law students but I still found it enjoyable -- especially the essays covering amendments 1, 2, 9, and 10.
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on September 14, 2007
This is a book that every American must read. Yes it does focus (is biased) toward "original intent". Why should we consider anyone's opinion of what the amendments should mean. That includes the opinions of some senile justice on the Supreme Court. What they believe the amendments should say is meaningless. The only important opinion is that of the founders, until the people change the meaning according to Constitutional procedure. If we don't like what it says, we can change it. But our politicians and judges can't do that arbitrarily. Just thought I would challenge the reviewer that prefers current interpretation over original intent.
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on January 24, 2013
Hickock was Deputy Secretary of Education for G. W. Bush and oversaw the developoment and policies for No Child Left Behind. His idealogy is reflected in the choice of authors for the essays. Many are well-researched, but some are simply opinion with a definite point of view. I would prefer something more objective.
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on May 2, 2013
This is an older book and new cases are not included. Good for the cases that are included in the book
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on March 28, 2000
This book is a great book for pre-law students. I was considering law and this book really got me interested in researching law more.
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