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Making Our Democracy Work: A Judge's View
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Making Our Democracy Work: A Judge's View

3.66  ·  Rating Details ·  441 Ratings  ·  64 Reviews
Charged with the responsibility of interpreting the Constitution, the Supreme Court has the awesome power to strike down laws enacted by our elected representatives. Why does the public accept the Court’s decisions as legitimate and follow them, even when those decisions are highly unpopular? What must the Court do to maintain the public’s faith? How can it help make our d ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published September 13th 2011 by Vintage (first published January 1st 2010)
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Apr 28, 2011 Erik rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When the judicial branch of our government – the only unelected portion – is attacked as being “activist”, I cannot help but think that the portion of the American electorate that thinks this is woefully unaware not just of how the judicial system works, but also lacking in a basic understanding of U.S. history. Fortunately, a book like this comes along – by long-serving Supreme Court Justice Breyer – that is brilliantly concise and readable. So much so, that it should be considered required rea ...more
John David
Aimed at the non-specialist, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer's book does a good job at using some of the more important cases in the history of the Court to sketch his personal approach to the Constitution. He then discusses these cases in relation to how he formed his moderate, consequentialist, and pragmatic approach to interpreting the Constitution and various statutes.

Part I considers how the Constitution can ensure a workable democracy while at the same time maintaining its legitimizing po
Jan 04, 2011 Mike rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Justice Breyer's book is definitely pitched to non-lawyers, which makes it hard for me (specialized in constitutional law in law school) to evaluate on its own merits -- his quickie summation of Marbury is one of the better ones I've read, but since I've read dozens, my eyes somewhat glaze over.

What makes the book interesting is that it's not just another attempt to explain the workings of the court to the general public; Breyer's sketching out a theory of how the court should decide cases in or
Sep 16, 2010 Eric_W marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: supreme-court
Fascinating interview with Terry Gross at
Justin Lee
This book was interesting, but I'm not sure who it's meant for. Is it meant for those studying the Constitution or in law school? If so, this book is a bit watered down. Is it for people who have no inkling of what the judicial process is? If so, he's assuming a lot about the general public's knowledge or tolerance for philosophical ideas being extolled. This book meets somewhere in the middle.

I enjoyed Breyer's take on the role of the courts in US government and I enjoyed his descriptions of t
This was a book of essays by Justice Breyer on a number of important Supreme Court cases. He chose as examples both good and bad cases as well as old and new cases. Breyer provides some good insights into how the court works and how decisions are arrived at. He is especially good at juxtaposing different cases. For example, in his chapter on Brown versus Board of Education, which he sees as a good case, he makes reference to an earlier case in which President Jackson ignored the Supreme Court an ...more
David Monroe
Breyer's six interpretive tools: text, history, tradition, precedent, the purpose of a statute, and the consequences of competing interpretations.
Nov 07, 2010 Wade rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
I enjoyed Justice Breyer's overview of the role the Judicial branch plays in a successful democracy. In a society where decisions are made by the will of the people, there is potential for minority groups to be oppressed by the majority. When this happens, our values are undermined and the success of the union itself becomes compromised. American history is full of examples; slavery, Jim Crow segregation, Japanese internment, search and seizure laws, Indian affairs, etc. 

Fortunately, “our syste
Dec 10, 2016 Saul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Breyer makes a clear and well reasoned presentation for the role he sees for the US Supreme Court: a bulwark of Constitutional guarantees against the excesses of the legislative and executive branches. In particular, he's interested in the sociology of why the People of the United States have come to accept the judgment of the Supreme Court, even when its rulings seem to contradict their own desires. Toward this end, he studies some of the Supreme Court's worst decisions, when they allowed thems ...more
Justice Breyer argues for a nuanced approach to decision-making, which in interpreting the Constitution and interpreting federal statutes looks not at one but a number of different factors, namely "history, traditions, precedent, purposes and related consequences." He emphasizes the need to be practical, and the importance of having the Supreme Court "complement" the other two branches of government, each having its own role. He points out that the Supreme Court's power of "judicial review," whe ...more
Sep 06, 2011 Bob rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Continuing to read several books, this one included. I know of only two Supreme Court Justices who wrie so well and openly. Stephen Breyer and Sandra Day O'Conner. Why the others don't believe that the American People either want or need to know how they think,how they perform their duties and who they are is beyond me. I haven't always agreed with Justice Breyer's decisions, but After reading. Much of his book, I think maybe he hasn't always been happy with his rulings.
One thing I keep coming b
Sep 17, 2010 Jon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'll admit it, I didn't finish this one. I got about two-thirds of the way through it and feel a better man for having done as much.

Justice Breyer uses some of the seminal cases in Supreme Court history (Marbury v. Madison, the Cherokee Indians debacle, Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Ed, and others) to provide historical context his views of the role of the judicial branch in modern times: how to play nice with the other branches, how to stay relevant and connected to the culture, and the
Beau Creson
This was an enjoyable book that I should have read BEFORE my first year of law school rather than after. For someone who has not taken law school classes, this book seems like a necessity to me. Otherwise, you would not know how the judicial process really works other than the sham explanation they give on television. However, the comments so far only relate to the first half of the book. The second half really gets into Breyer's ideology. His methods can be controversial, but I think he does a ...more
Will Saunders
Sep 12, 2011 Will Saunders rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book about 9 months ago. But after Justice Breyer and his family was robbed last week, I pulled my book out and read through it again. I didn't read the book completely from cover-to-cover the second time around like I did the first time.

Justice Breyer is my favorite justice, because his legal ethics have always been so impeccable and beyond reproach. He's one of the few justices that proactively considers recusal on matters presumed to have a personal interest for him. That's impre
Fr. Ted
Jan 06, 2011 Fr. Ted rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I had never read any book about the Supreme Court, so this was way outside my normal reading subjects. I did learn a number of things, but at some point the book didn't hold my interest. Probably as he moved through specific cases to make his points. It made me realize how complex the US government is, and how complex law is. The court, according to Breyer, is the arbiter of the constitution, enforcing the Constitution's limits (both curbing and maintaining American democracy), and defending the ...more
Nov 03, 2010 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Justice Breyer's book has several purposes, all of which it achieves nicely: explain the function of the Supreme Court; demonstrate its increasing authority over time; give examples of important cases regarding government power; dito for cases of individual rights; and all along explain his theory of judicial decision-making, which can be summarized as "pragmatism". This last point is actually the meaning of the book's title - responsible adjudication means, taking real-world, contemporary facto ...more
Nov 05, 2010 Doug rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Constitutional Law 101 for non-law people. About 80% of the book is a history of the Supreme Court and a walkthrough of some of its landmark decisions, and 20% is about his view of the role of a judge in our system of government and his process of deciding cases. I wish the numbers were reversed; there are hundreds of Con Law scholars who can talk about past cases, but only nine Supreme Court Justices, and it would have been more interesting to really have him articulate his perspectives more. I ...more
The Supreme Court is one of the checks and balances provided in the Constitution. But is the least powerful of the three branches and over the 200+ years that it has operated it has ruled on cases that were ignored, cases that were wrong and ruled on unpopular cases and was obeyed. Breyer recounts the history of the court, and how the court comes up with its verdicts, with historic and modern examples.

Why I started this book: My brother recommended this book, and it was time to take it off my T
Real Supergirl
Oct 06, 2011 Real Supergirl rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
In general this is a fascinating and readable book for someone who isn't a lawyer and who is often confused by the ins and outs of how the Supreme Court works - both now and historically. Justice Breyer walks us through some of the most important, pivotal cases in history in terms of determining the Court's role in American life. The most interesting chapters are definitely the first section, where he reviews Marbury v. Madison, The Cherokees v. Georgia, Dred Scott, Brown v. Board, and then the ...more
Tom Sheffield
Feb 16, 2016 Tom Sheffield rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
David Rubin
Sep 15, 2015 David Rubin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I strongly recommend this Justice Breyer's book on the Supreme Court and the American political system. The level of difficulty of the book creates a challenge for the lay (non-lawyer) reader, but I feel that, as citizens of this nation, we should challenge ourselves to understand these issues.

Justice Breyer provides us a historical glimpse of some of the most important cases in American judicial history and how these cases affect our lives today.

I think this is an important book for those inter
Nelson Rosario
Oct 08, 2011 Nelson Rosario rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reason
This was an excellent book that provides a succinct explanation of how the Supreme Court of the United States exists in society. Anyone that is interested in the Supreme Court of the United States should read this book.

Justice Breyer lays out how he believes the court should function so that people are willing to adhere to its decisions. He uses famous cases the court decided to illustrate the principles he puts forward and explain why he thinks the court did, or didn't, do the right thing.

The b
Jan 10, 2013 Hasan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pretty good especially the first and last thirds, which stuck to examples of consequential Supreme Court cases and decisions. You absolutely respect the Court's ability to stand up for the minority no matter how unpopular the decision might be among the majority. And, you realize despite the Constitution that the SCOTUS horrendously let down and denied the citizenry of African and Japanese of their inalienable rights.

One can, however, not miss the fact that Justice Breyer was part of the minorit
Tim Titolo
Jan 21, 2011 Tim Titolo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
Justice Stephen Breyer, appointed to the Supreme Court by President Clinton in 1994, is also a believer in restraint. Statistics reveal that over the years, Breyer has been less willing than any of his fellow justices to overturn acts of Congress (a fact that belies the notion, peddled by conservative pundits, of liberal judges as legislators in robes, ruling the country by judicial whim).

This book helps people understand Consititutional history. From Marbury versus Madison to Guantanamo, cases
May 08, 2012 Bruce rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good insights into how the Supreme Courts works from an insider's perspective. Addresses how gross errors by politicized SCs were made and how some were corrected. Also how, in the past, decisions weren't always accepted by the public, Congress, or Executive branch. Nowadays, even the obviously political decisions are accepted. The most recent examples being Bush v Gore and Citizens United. Reading this book is very timely now that the SC is considering the Affordable Health Care Act. 4 stars
Jan 14, 2011 Jb rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ignorance of basic civics is prevalent in American society today with three-quarters of the population unable to distinguish the difference between a legislator and a judge. Many can’t name the three branches of government even though they can name a television judge on American Idol. Most interesting are sections where Breyer describes how the Supreme Court arrived at famous decisions, most good and accepted by the public but a few quite bad. Breyer is informative as he describes the decision-m ...more
Chris Aylott
Associate Justice Breyer explores a series of key Supreme Court cases, showing how the Court made its decisions and how its operations influence our democracy. A little dry, as you might expect, but a useful look at the mind of an extremely important justice. Thankfully, he seems to be sane, sober, and dedicated to the ideas of reason and practicality. I particularly like his observations on how none of the branches of government can operate without both respect for and restraint of the other br ...more
Jeff Aird
This was an ok book. I came away with a better understanding of the pro viewpoint for judicial activism. I mostly enjoyed the legal history of of educational segregation, WWI Japanese internment, and Guantanamo bay. Justice Breyer does a good job defending his reasons for what he calls a "pragmatic" approach to constitutional interpretation. Followers of originalism and textualism will doubtless find his arguments unpersuasive, but I enjoyed better understanding his reasons.
Hunter Robinson
Pragmatism is a an interpretation theory that you select because you don't know what you believe. One day you're a textualist and the next you're a living constitutionalist. If you read Breyer's opinions they don't follow his outline for judicial decision making or they often times focus only on one of the 6 he mentions. This book needs to be tempered by a conservative book by Scalia or another textualist/originalist justice.
Count Jared
Jan 10, 2011 Count Jared rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Clear, marvelously direct prose reflects Mr Justice Breyer's personal and professional obsession with making the law accessible in a pragmatic and democratic manner, to everyone.

Omitted some cases I would love to have seen discussed, but he hit every major issue of "how Supreme Court does law" in fine style, from Roe to Hirabayashi, to Rasul and Hamdan.

Brilliantly open. Would recommend it to almost anyone.
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Stephen Gerald Breyer is an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Appointed by Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1994, and known for his pragmatic approach to constitutional law, Breyer is generally associated with the more liberal side of the Court.

Following a clerkship with Supreme Court Associate Justice Arthur Goldberg in 1964, Breyer became well-known as a law professor and lecturer
More about Stephen G. Breyer...

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“The Court has a special responsibility to ensure that the Constitution works in practice. While education, including the transmission of our civic values from one generation to the next, must play the major role in maintaining public confidence in the Court's decisions, the Court too must help maintain public acceptance of its own legitimacy. It can do this best by helping ensure that the Constitution remains "workable" in a broad sense of the term. Specifically, it can and should interpret the Constitution in a way that works for the people of today.” 2 likes
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