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The Supremes' Greatest Hits, 2nd Revised & Updated Edition: The 44 Supreme Court Cases That Most Directly Affect Your Life Paperback – September 6, 2016
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“The Supremes' Greatest Hits” is a wonderful, accessible and concise book on how the Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution and used its power of judicial review to define, and redefine, our way of life. Lawyer and author Michael G. Trachtman provides the layperson with a valuable reference and introductory look at forty-four important Supreme Court cases. This insightful 256-page book includes the following ten chapters: 1. How the Supreme Court Became Supreme, 2. One Nation Under God? Matters of Church and State, 3. Innocent Until Proven Guilty: The Rights of the Accused, 4. The Melting Pot: Race, Discrimination, and Diversity, 5. Playing Politics, 6. The Right To Do What You Want, 7. “Big Government” In Your Business and Your Backyard, 8. Limiting the Imperial Presidency, 9. How Free is Free Speech?, and 10. Old Laws and New Technologies.
1. A well-written and well-researched book. A page turner.
2. A very interesting topic, forty-four important Supreme Court cases that impact our lives.
3. Intended for the layperson, Trachtman does a wonderful job of keeping the book accessible and fun to read. “The Supreme Court serves as the ultimate interpreter and protector of our most fundamental rights—the rights set forth in the Constitution.”
4. Clearly defines concepts. “The Constitution is, by its own words, the “supreme law of the land.” Most of the Constitution deals with the creation of a federal government—establishing the three branches; defining their powers; and, very important to the framers, limiting their powers.”
5. Provides the essence of the Bill of Rights.
6. Important insights into the Supreme Court. “Most cases are decided clearly and decisively, but approximately twenty to thirty percent of the cases carry only a 5–4 majority.”
7. Provides the legacy of key cases. “Marbury v. Madison gave us the opportunity to remain the government of laws, not men, that is a prime hallmark of our greatness as a nation.”
8. Describes some of the worst decisions in Supreme Court history. “At its core, in the Dred Scott decision the Supreme Court ruled that slaves and free blacks were not citizens worthy of constitutional protection, and could lawfully be claimed as property, even in states that had outlawed slavery.”
9. Each chapter begins with a chapter-appropriate quote. “A union of government and religion tends to destroy government and degrade religion.” —Hugo L. Black, Supreme Court Justice, 1937–71”
10. The issue of separation of church and state. “Justice Black, writing for the majority, put the issue into its historical context, recalling “that this very practice of establishing governmentally composed prayers for religious services was one of the reasons which caused many of our early colonists to leave England and seek religious freedom in America.””
11. A look at the Scopes “Monkey Trial”. “The result: A unanimous Supreme Court ruled that a ban on the teaching of evolution violates the Establishment Clause.”
12. Outstanding dissents. Consider Justice Ginsburg’s dissent on the Hobby Lobby case involving disputed contraception coverage to their employees. “Justice Ginsburg angrily disagreed. She called the majority opinion a “decision of startling breadth” through which profit-making businesses could simply cite their owners’ religious beliefs, and through that means determine which laws they will and will not be required to follow. This, she said, elevated the owners’ religious beliefs over the disadvantages that their religion-based opt-outs impose on others—a company could raise a religious objection to virtually anything, and “the government, i.e., the general public, can pick up the tab.””
13. Cases involving race. “Overruling more than a half century of precedent, Warren plainly stated that the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place in American education—and, by implication, anywhere else in America.”
14. The dissent on Citizens United. Consider Justice Stevens dissent on Citizens United on the issue of campaign financing. “He scoffed at the majority’s conclusion—which, he pointed out, was not backed by any evidence or data—that buying access does not lead to corruption.” “The result: Corporations and individuals have the unlimited right to contribute as much money as they want to organizations that support and oppose political candidates.”
15. The Second Amendment. “The so-called conservative wing of the Court (Justices Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy, Roberts, and Alito) won the day, and took the politically conservative position. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion, ultimately concluding that the right to bear arms is each individual’s right, having nothing to do with service in a militia.”
16. A look at same-sex marriage. “This time, unlike Citizens United, for instance, Justice Kennedy sided with the liberals, and he wrote the majority opinion: he found that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right protected by the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Constitution.”
17. Issues involving the Commerce Clause. “The Supreme Court’s willingness to expand Congress’s rights under the Commerce Clause reached a zenith in 1964. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin in places of public accommodation, like hotels and restaurants.”
18. Cases involving monopolies. “In an undeniably landmark case, the Court broke up Standard Oil into separate geographic units (not unlike what happened in the telephone industry decades later). In so doing, the Court announced a new rule to be applied in future monopoly cases—the so-called “rule of reason.” “
19. A look at the separation of powers. “To his credit, Nixon complied less than a week later. The House Judiciary Committee had already begun impeachment proceedings, and Nixon knew that the evidence on the tapes would seal his fate. On August 8, 1974, reading the writing on the wall, Nixon resigned—the first president ever to do so. Vice President Gerald Ford assumed the presidency.”
20. How free is free speech? “Fundamentally, Brandenburg provides a constitutional safe haven for virtually all speech that communicates an idea or position, no matter how repugnant. Our traditions so respect the right of free speech that our government will protect even those who espouse that it be overthrown.”
21. A look at the impact of new technologies. “The Chief Justice then answered the question as directly as it could be answered: “Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cell phone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple—get a warrant.” In other words, the “search incident to arrest” rule will no longer apply to cell phones.”
1. No references, nor links to speak of.
2. Lack of supplementary material like charts, timelines, graphs, photos or tables.
3. No formal bibliography.
In summary, I really enjoyed this book. It’s a great resource for laypersons who are interested in the Supreme Court but don’t want to be bothered with in depth, esoteric language. Lawyer and author Michael G. Trachtman provides readers with forty-four Supreme Court cases that have an impact on our lives. A fun an insightful read, I highly recommend it!
Further suggestions: “50 Most Cited US Supreme Court Decision” by US Supreme Court, “The Nine” by Jeffrey Toobin, “The Brethren” by Bob Woodward, “A History of the Supreme Court” by Bernard Schwartz, “Uncertain Justice: The Roberts Court and the Constitution” by Laurence Tribe, “The Case Against the Supreme Court” by Erwin Chemerinsky, and “Know Your Bill of Rights” by Sean Patrick.
To me, these cases had a balance of justices. Now I am alarmed what the outcomes would have been if court had been or will be unbalanced.
Really, every American should read this book.