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The Dirty Dozen: How Twelve Supreme Court Cases Radically Expanded Government and Eroded Freedom

4.6 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews
ISBN-10: 1595230505
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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.


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) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Sentinel HC (May 1, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 1595230505
  • ASIN: B001LF4ATK
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,204,504 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
"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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
THE DIRTY DOZEN is an unremarkable and somewhat superficial survey of twelve of the worst Supreme Court decisions of the modern era. It is written from a libertarian perspective and primarily for a non-lawyer audience. The book is organized into twelve chapters, with each chapter covering one of the titular cases. The first four chapters are devoted to cases which expanded government power, while the latter eight deal with cases posited as eroding individual freedoms. Each chapter, in turn, is divided into four sections which detail the constitutional issue in the case, the facts, the Court's holding, and the implications of its decision.

The main shortcoming of the book is that it is written for readers already inclined to agree with it and will probably not persuade many others. It is not the authors' conclusions that are generally problematic, but rather their lack of adequate argumentation in support of them. They continually assume a premise and criticize the Court for departing from it, but don't do the work of actually establishing the premise itself.

For instance, the authors being libertarians, much is made of the modern Court's failure to protect economic rights such as the claimed right to earn an honest living. The right to earn an honest living, however, is not a right enumerated in the Constitution; if it exists, it exists as an unenumerated right. The authors point to the Ninth Amendment, which states that the enumeration of some rights should not be read to deny the existence of unenumerated ones, but the Ninth Amendment is not itself a substantive source of unenumerated rights. It only stands for the proposition that unenumerated rights exist; it does not tell us anything about their content.
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