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The Dirty Dozen: How Twelve Supreme Court Cases Radically Expanded Government and Eroded Freedom, With a New Preface [Paperback]

by Robert Levy, William Mellor
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 16, 2010 1935308270 978-1935308270 Reprint
The Founding Fathers wanted the judicial branch to serve as a check on the power of the legislative and executive, and gave the Supreme Court the responsibility of interpreting the Constitution in a way that would safeguard individual freedoms. Sadly, the Supreme Court has handed down many destructive decisions on cases you probably never learned about in school. In The Dirty Dozen, two distinguished legal scholars shed light on the twelve worst cases, which allowed government to interfere in your private contractual agreements; curtail your rights to criticize or support political candidates; arrest and imprison you indefinitely, without filing charges; seize your private property, without compensation, when someone uses the property for criminal activity--even if you don't know about it!

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Cato Institute senior fellow Levy and lawyer Mellor, in this excellent examination of twelve far-reaching Supreme Court cases and their consequences, force readers to question the direction in which the judiciary has led our country over the past century-and possibly their own attitudes toward the federal government. The authors deftly navigate the complicated proceedings without slipping into lawyer-speak, while unapologetically leaning on their libertarian sentiments to color their commentary and analysis. Though the writers defend well their claim that the dozen cases under discussion-with a number of "dishonorable mentions" and an appendix each for Roe v. Wade and Bush v. Gore-have expanded the federal government and eroded civil liberties, one can't help but feel a creeping sense of arrogance when Levy and Mellor assert repeatedly that they know how the Constitution's authors would view the document were they alive today. Still, the authors' canny investigation into the Supreme Court should call into doubt some of the staid political viewpoints readers may have taken too long for granted.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Many of the most harmful decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court have been subject to sustained attack in separate places. But I am not aware of any volume whose major function is to critique the worst in one place. Into this void step two fearless writers,Bob Levy and Chip Mellor, who through their work have been deeply involved in shaping our legal and political culture. (From the Foreword by Richard A. Epstein, Professor of Law, University of Chicago )

A passionate, thoughtful, provocative, and eminently readable book by two of America's most influential libertarian lawyers and legal thinkers. (Eugene Volokh, Professor of Law, UCLA; Founder of the Volokh Conspiracy Blog )

An easy read, and a very informative primer on some long-neglected cases. |fLyle Denniston, Scotus Blog

Levy and Mellor offer fascinating insights on twelve of the most important and controversial cases of our time. Readers will gain new appreciation for the Supreme Court's role in affecting their lives and liberties. With that appreciation will come heightened understanding of the stakes in future Supreme Court nominations. (Nadine Strossen, Former President, American Civil Liberties Union )

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Cato Institute; Reprint edition (January 16, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1935308270
  • ISBN-13: 978-1935308270
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #787,722 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
80 of 84 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Twelve (+) Bad Cases in One Amazing Book! May 13, 2008
When reviewing Epstein's "How Progressives Rewrote the Constitution" I griped that he failed to use the "treasure trove" of case law available to support his argument. Well Levy and Mellor have found it and put it all on display! I was immediately intrigued when I saw the title. What twelve cases would they pick? The title, however, is a tad misleading. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this book is much more than just twelve bad cases. Sure, you get twelve cases and the facts and issues involved but there's a lot more.

Liberties aren't destroyed overnight. Levy and Mellor recognize this by breaking the book up into chapters focusing on specific freedoms or clauses in the constitution rather than solely one case. They masterfully focus on one case in each area while also recognizing (through "dishonorable mentions") the precedent that lead to each of the Dirty Dozen. They also detail the repercussions and cases that followed. The effect is that they manage to take a premise, twelve distinct and often unrelated cases, and construct a comprehensive argument for the Court's responsibility in the expansion of our government and erosion of our liberties.

This book is an easy read for lawyers who are likely already aware of many of the cases. One of the many successes of this book, however, is its clear enunciation of the issues for those without a legal background. The authors spare no one, regardless of political affiliation, in their analysis of the cases. This is a perfect explanation of the damage the Supreme Court has done to our constitutional form of government in the last century.
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48 of 58 people found the following review helpful
"Regrettably, the [Supreme] court has too often taken the plain wording of the Constitution and interpreted it to mean exactly the opposite of what the Founding Fathers intended. By that process the Court profoundly altered the American legal, political, and economic landscape."

So begins Richard Epstein's forward to this truly remarkable book.

The authors, Robert Levy, of the Cato Institute, and William Mellor, of the Institute of Justice, have chosen twelve Supreme Court cases they believe "changed the course of American history".

The book is not written solely for lawyers. In fact, it is written for the citizen concerned with the expansion of government at the expense of individual freedom.

The tragedy of this book is that it will be read by so few people when it should be read by every citizen, regardless of political persuasion, who is concerned the fate of the United States.

These twelve cases are considered by the authors to be the worst decisions of the Supreme Court of the modern era. In most cases, they also list a runner-up. Events move quickly, so it is quite likely that the authors would add Boumedienne v. Bush, the incredible decision that grants a variety of rights to terrorists. Personally I think that Boumedienne will vie with Dredd Scott as being the most lunkheaded decision ever made by the Court. U.S. v. Miller, 1939 case about the Second Amendment, has been resolved by the very recent decision in District of Columbia v. Heller. (One can see how endangered the Constitution is by the 5-4 vote of the Court in Heller.)

The authors (unsurprisingly) relate each of the cases to a specific topic.
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33 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book May 16, 2008
The title is misleading. It's not about 12 cases, it's about 12 topics of constitutional abuse, each topic being carefully crafted to teach an abused section of the constitution, along with how that section of the constitution has been abused, complete with the landmark cases: what they were, how they were decided, and how the Supreme Court err'ed on each.

As such it's a wonderfully informative book teaching a broad scope of Supreme Court sanctioned constitutional abuse. I found it well written, immensely entertaining, and comprehensive in both its structure and coverage. I couldn't put the book down til reaching the end.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
I believe you and every American interested in our freedoms and the Supreme Court should read this book. The authors, Robert Levy and William Mellor, pick 12 Supreme Court cases they believe were poorly decided and had detrimental consequences to our society. Each of these cases is given its own chapter and often includes another case as a "dishonorable mention" that they may also reference.

Now, we are far too deferential to the Supreme Court and even the Federal Courts. We allow them to "correct society" through rulings that are really super-legislation. This is not in the Constitution and is bad for our society. It allows the legislative branch to avoid its responsibilities, and plants undemocratic sentiments in the hearts and minds of the citizenry. But this is my point of view.

Richard Epstein gives a very nice introduction and goes over his views on the cases selected. While he mostly agrees with the authors, he offers up some disagreements and explains why. This helps the reader start his or her critical thinking as they work through the book. Yes, it is written for the general public, but it is reading you will want to read and argue with in your own mind to come to your own conclusions.

The book is in two parts. The first talks about cases that have led to the expansion of government. Chapter 1 uses Helvering v Davis (1937) and U.S. v Butler (1936) to discuss the misuse of the general welfare clause. Chapter 2 uses Wickard v. Filburn (1942) and Gonzales v. Raich (2005) to demonstrate the abuse of the clause about regulating interstate commerce. Chapter 3 looks at rescinding private contracts with the 1934 case Home Building & Loan Association v. Blaisdell and the 1935 case Gold Clause Cases.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Not just for Libertarians
This book does a great job of explaining how politicians (from both the left and right) and public appeal have persuaded the supreme court to arrive at unconstitutional rulings,... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Yum
5.0 out of 5 stars Short and Sweet...
Robert Levy chooses 12 cases and mentions a few more for honorable mention.
You may not agree with his conclusions but his teaching is terrific. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Eric Henderson
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Summation of SC Dirty Decisions
Excellent reference source for debates on our judicial branch and some of its more egregious decisions.

Concise and clear in its discussion.
Published 2 months ago by Ben F. Sands, Jr.
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking read.
Although one may have differing opinions about some of these cases, the author makes a good argument for each case he discusses.
Published 8 months ago by Bigdog
2.0 out of 5 stars Too Short
Not a bad for a quick look but anyone expect any real depth is going to be disappointed. The author had a good idea but couldn't seem to carry it out thoroughly.
Published 8 months ago by D. Connors
5.0 out of 5 stars A real Eye Opener
This one make you think about what really occurs in courtrooms. Very captivating.
Well worth reading more than once. A good read.
Published 9 months ago by RB
5.0 out of 5 stars Scary but everyone needs to read it
Scary to really understand why we are in such a mess but everyone needs to read it to start to change back to our core values
Published 11 months ago by E. J. Boudreau Jr.
3.0 out of 5 stars Good premise, but disappointingly shallow and contradictory
THE DIRTY DOZEN is an unremarkable and somewhat superficial survey of twelve of the worst Supreme Court decisions of the modern era. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Brian Brockmeyer
5.0 out of 5 stars The worst decisions of the 1930s-onward Supreme Court from a...
Libertarians Levy and Mellor survey the Supreme Court's cases from approximately the last eighty years to pick out the dozen cases having perhaps the worst effects. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Jeffrey Walden
5.0 out of 5 stars Trashing the Constitution
This book will inform the reader of how we have totally changed the constitution by misinterpreting the written words of the founding fathers.
Published 23 months ago by chuck
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