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The Conservative Assault on the Constitution Hardcover – September 28, 2010

4.2 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Erwin Chemerinsky knows the Constitution as a legal scholar and the Supreme Court as a lawyer who represents clients there. It’s a rare and powerful combination that makes him uniquely qualified to write this disturbing and persuasive book about the impact of the current Supreme Court’s approach to constitutional interpretation.”

—Linda Greenhouse, Lecturer, Yale Law School; former New York Times Supreme Court correspondent

"Our Constitution depends on the courts to keep it alive; we all depend on Erwin Chemerinsky to remind us why that is so important. This book is essential reading for anyone who cares about preserving our constitutional birthright."

—Susan N. Herman, President, American Civil Liberties Union

About the Author

Erwin Chemerinsky is the founding dean of the University of California Irvine Law School. He is a graduate of Northwestern University and Harvard Law School. After teaching law at DePaul College of Law, he moved to the University of Southern California, where he taught from 1983 to 2004. He frequently argued cases before the U.S. Court of Appeals in various jurisdictions and occasionally before the U.S. Supreme Court. He is well known in Los Angeles, where he helped draft a new city charter (he chaired the charter commission), issued a report on the city's police department, and commented on the O.J. Simpson trial. From 2004 to 2008 he taught at Duke University School of Law, before returning to southern California to start the law school at UCI.

He is the author of Constitutional Law: Principles and Policies, a widely used law school textbook.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (September 28, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416574689
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416574682
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #929,152 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book explains in plain English how Supreme Court decisions affect the lives of all Americans. Chemerinsky writes the story of how the decisions made by Presidents regarding whom to appoint to the Court ripple throughout decades. Conservatives will probably disagree with Chemerinsky's judgments about what the Court has done as it shifted to the right, but they should also find it interesting to learn how the Court shifted right and what it might mean for the future.

I believe the most important aspect of the book is how clearly Chemerinsky is able to demonstrate that there really is no one way interpret the Constitution. Put on talk radio today and you are sure to hear something like "if you believe in the Constitution, we have to do x y z." But a belief in the Constitution does not dictate obvious policy choices. Instead, the Constitution is written in often vague and broad language that does not answer a specific fact scenario. For example, the First Amendment does not mention anything about prayer in schools, but mentions that government should not establish religion. The Supreme Court decides whether or not the establishment clause prohibits prayer in schools, and really the answer is not obvious. Many of the most important Supreme Court decisions are decided by a 5-4 vote. This means that 4 of the most educated, intelligent, and informed legal minds in the country, obviously experts on Constitutional law, thought the other 5 justices were misinterpreting the Constitution. But from that moment on, the 5 Justices have the correct interpretation, and the 4 Justices the incorrect.

Constitutional law greatly impacts our lives.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author leads the reader through case after case, often quoting from both the majority and dissenting opinions, showing how the court arrived at Roe vs. Wade, for instance, and how subsequent Courts have worked to erode and limit a woman's rights since it was decided.
That's just one example. He takes separation of church and state, habeas corpus rights and personal privacy and gives a historical account of each, showing how the increasingly conservative court, while decrying "judicial activism," has actually been consistently activist on issues that involved conservative ideology, overturning previous decisions with abandon, while claiming smugly that they are respectful of previous decisions.
The most damning point he makes is the two-faced posture of the Gang of Four(Scalia, Roberts, Alito and Thomas). On the one hand they pretend to be strict constructionists, limiting individual's rights to those explicitly enumerated in the Constitution and its amendments. For example, they ruled against a victim of police negligence whose children were murdered by an ex-spouse after she asked for protection and the cops didn't bother to take any action, saying that the Constitution does not guarantee police competence (or words to that effect) but they were adamant in the recent ruling that corporations have the rights of individuals as far as campaign spending is concerned...clearly not a "right" explicitly granted in the Constitution. Ideology trumps principles with these guys. Real hypocrites!
This is a very dense book, and the reader must have an interest in the details of case law and legal precedents to stay with it. I recommend it highly to anyone with those interests.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book in order to get a liberal, progressive interpretation on some issues I consider critical to our daily lives. Professor Chemerinsky provides a wonderful first person narrative on some very intricate and complicated issues and carefully lays out the underlying cases heard by the Supreme Court that have influenced or directed contemporary thinking on these subjects. I genuinely appreciate the careful, logical thinking and reasoning on each case; I wish there was more of a reflective analysis against the thinking or beliefs of the framers of the Constitution. Chemerinsky's essays on the flawed thinking of recent Supreme Court decisions is refreshing and his openly progressive position clarifies any bias toward a more liberal interpretive perspective. I think the totality of the work would be significantly enhanced if there were anecdotal entries identifying issues or interpretations encountered by the founding fathers that contribute to or support the more progressive perspective, or; give cause to discount or reduce any conservative inerpretation, contemporary or otherwise.

Overall, this is a work that any reasonably minded person should read in order to be more informed and aware of how the Supreme Court's works may affect every citizen's life.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've attended seminars at which Erwin Chemerinsky has spoken three or maybe four times. The first time, I was persuaded he was a genius. The second time I was a little uneasy. He speaks typically for an hour without notes of any sort, dissecting recent Supreme Court decisions with a chipper sense of good will. I know this sounds harsh, but when the anecdotes are delivered in the same cadence time and time again, you do start to wonder. So I picked up his latest book with more than a little curiosity. What would he sound like in The Conservative Assault on the Constitution?

He sounds the the way he always does: Possessed of an uncanny and almost omniscient grasp of recent Supreme Court decisions. But what can he tell us about how conservatives have hijacked the courts and turned the Constitution into a necromancer's spell?

The story is by now familiar to all practitioners. Beginning with President Richard Nixon, the right has taken aim at the courts, the Supreme Court in particular. It has created an ideology all its own, originalism, and has transformed it into a cloak used to advance a very contemporary agenda: support for school desegregation has eroded, as have the rights of those accused of crime. Although we give lip service to federalism, the power of the federal government has grown at the expense of the people. The courts are increasingly friendly to big business and hostile to civil rights claims. Anyone who has practiced law during the past 20 years has watched the courts drift further and further to the right.

I was encouraged to see Chemerinsky chronicle this trend. I am so caught up in individual cases I often fail to see the larger picture. I know that civil rights claims rarely make it to a jury trial any longer.
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