Today’s Book Salon is going to be very special. Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the University of California Irvine Law School, has authored an absolutely fantastic book, The Case Against The Supreme Court. Both of your hosts today know, and have very long admired Dean Chemerinsky. We often get asked by friends and readers who would we choose, if we got to make the next appointment to the Supreme Court. Erwin is at the top of both of our lists. He is truly a progressive and innovative legal mind.
So often in modern conversation you hear complaints about how out of touch and damaging the Supreme Court has become. Whether from Bush v. Gore, to Citizen’s United, to the more recently destructive Hobby Lobby decision, to name a bare few, the cries against SCOTUS are getting louder by the term. Yet far too often that hue and cry is by lay people and concerned activists, and the scholars and professors serve up a more nuanced take with pulled punches steeped in complicated case law and argument. Not Dean Chemerinsky. This is a full on broadside against what the court has become and, maybe, what it always has been once the romanticized veneer of reverence is stripped away.
The Case Against the Supreme Court is exactly the case which must be made against a Supreme Court that has relentlessly upheld abuses of power instead of curbing them, that has trampled on the common citizen while propping up oligarchs, business and the power elite. Erwin brings a powerful wake up call to one and all as to the ills of the current court, both in ideology and construct. And, best of all, he does it in an imminently approachable, easy to read and flowing manner. Lawyers will love this book, but you certainly do not need to be one to read it and derive great benefit from it.
I could tell you why I think The Case Against The Supreme Court is so necessary, but, frankly, Dean Chemerinsky has already done so in an article literally entitled “Why I Wrote This Book”:
For the first 78 years of American history until the ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865, the Court consistently sided with slave owners and enforced the institution of slavery. For 58 years, the Court embraced the noxious doctrine of separate but equal and approved Jim Crow laws that segregated every aspect of Southern life. Nor are egregious mistakes by the Supreme Court on race just a thing of the past. The Roberts Court has furthered racial inequality by striking down efforts by school boards to desegregate schools and by declaring unconstitutional crucial provisions of a landmark civil rights statute, the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The Court also has continually failed to stand up to majoritarian pressures in times of crisis. During World War I, individuals were imprisoned for speech that criticized the draft and the war without the slightest evidence that it had any adverse effect on military recruitment or the war effort. During World War II, 110,000 Japanese-Americans were uprooted from their life long homes and placed in what President Franklin Roosevelt referred to as concentration camps. During the McCarthy era, people were imprisoned simply for teaching works by Marx and Engels and Lenin. In all of these instances, the Court erred badly and failed to enforce the Constitution. Most recently, the Roberts Court held that individuals could be criminally punished for advising foreign organizations, designated by the government as terrorist organizations, from using the United Nations for peaceful resolution of their disputes or gaining humanitarian assistance.
But I believe that there are many reforms that can make the Court better and taken together make it less likely that it will so badly fail in the future. In the last chapter, I propose a host of changes, including instituting merit selection of Supreme Court justices, creating a more meaningful confirmation process, establishing term limits for Supreme Court justices, changing the Court’s communications (such as by televising its proceedings), and applying ethics rules to the justices.
The Case Against The Supreme Court is all that and much, much more. The last paragraph I quoted there is critical. Far too many books of this nature merely identify the problems without displaying their full genesis, and identifying concrete and practical ideas to fix the ills. In a nearly forty page long closing chapter, Chemerinsky lays out exactly how the Supreme Court can be recast into a position of vitality and good for the citizens it is meant to serve.
If you have ever, for any reason, thought about buying a book on the Supreme Court and devouring it, make it The Case Against The Supreme Court. I guarantee you will be thrilled you did, it is really that good.
So, come join us and our special guest, Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, for spirited discussion of the Supreme Court, how it got to be the way it is, and our path forward. (more…)