Libertarians Levy and Mellor survey the Supreme Court's cases from approximately the last eighty years to pick out the dozen cases having perhaps the...moreLibertarians Levy and Mellor survey the Supreme Court's cases from approximately the last eighty years to pick out the dozen cases having perhaps the worst effects. I note libertarian particularly, because these "dirty dozen" would in no way be a consensus pick among any well-informed cross-section of society. You should be aware what you're getting here. If you're looking for something to agree with instinctively, wholeheartedly, and unreservedly, this is probably not the book you're looking for.
If you're well-read in Supreme Court jurisprudence, their selections will mostly be familiar. If you're less well-read, some of their selections will be familiar, but many will be obscure. The cases aren't the ones that engender vocal complaint (although a few are in the list: Korematsu v. United States as the decision enabling internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, Kelo v. City of New London as the recent decision permitting eminent-domain transfer of property from one private party to another for no public use, and Grutter v. Bollinger as the slightly-less-recent decision permitting use of race in the public college admissions process); notably, you won't find Roe v. Wade or Bush v. Gore on the list, although the authors go out of their way to explain why each was not included.
The authors' criticisms range from the reasonably predictable and somewhat commonplace to the utterly esoteric. Resort to the non-delegation doctrine as a legal principle, for example, is highly unusual these days, to say the least. The authors instead concern themselves with what is "right", regardless whether it is or isn't popular (as you might expect of a book published by the Cato Institute). This book is a voice in the wilderness, not a populist polemic. One advantage of this tactic is that, because you won't approach these cases with quite the same tired arguments you'll hear day in and day out among pundits and the chattering classes, it's easier to seriously approach the arguments and consider them on their merits: not simply on who wins or loses the political battle of the day. One disadvantage is that it's not always easy to slog through the sometimes-arcane legal principles expounded.
Because this book doesn't hew to any particular party line, pretty much everyone is likely to find something to like in the criticisms presented here. Liberals will enjoy the civil-liberties criticisms; conservatives will enjoy the expansion-of-government criticisms. Yet beyond that, each will find criticisms that are discomforting or even disagreeable. The way the authors associate Korematsu with the modern-day case of Jose Padilla will leave many conservatives feeling uneasy. Similarly, the textual redefinition involved in Kelo may give liberals some pause where the textual redefinition in Wickard v. Filburn did not. Perhaps this unease will give both sorts of readers pause to more deeply consider their existing assumptions and convictions. This is a strength of the book: it makes you think about the reasons why you believe what you believe.
But it's only a strength if you're willing to approach each criticism with an open mind. And that's a broader note to make on the book: if you approach this planning to believe it's an ideological screed, you'll get much less from it than if you approach it assuming each argument is honestly made.(less)
How do laws and the legal process balance the competing interests of everyone involved? What do judges consider when deciding how a law should be cons...moreHow do laws and the legal process balance the competing interests of everyone involved? What do judges consider when deciding how a law should be construed? Ward Farnsworth here presents tools to help answer these questions, and others like them: thirty-one concepts that underlie our legal system. Paraphrasing part of the book's preface, the goal is to gather and clearly explain, with numerous examples, the most interesting ideas presented in law school.
That said, I think this book is under-sold as specifically being for legal-minded people. Some of the concepts are more specific to the law, to be sure. But most of the ideas have general applicability to thinking about how people interact generally. The economic ideas give ways to think about how much things are worth (in a broad sense of the word), how people value them, and whose responsibility problems should be. These ideas are all useful in considering group dynamics well outside the legal context. The game theory concepts are useful to anyone in any sort of business, in thinking about, and talking about, how their competitors will act and react to them. The psychological phenomena studied are immensely valuable to advertisers, and to anyone in the general public interested in recognizing the subtle tactics advertisements use. The concepts deriving from statistics are valuable to anyone thinking about what the figures people give actually mean, or don't mean. Even the jurisprudential ideas studied are often useful for argument and persuasion in general, and making one's point more effectively.
This book isn't really about law, although it frequently touches upon it, and the topic of law is an undercurrent throughout. It's really about concepts that show up everywhere, not just in law: concepts useful to anyone wanting to think about how the world works, why it works the way it does, and how to successfully navigate it. It's not a long book, but it is a deep book: best digested a chapter at a time, giving time for thought about the concepts discussed to see them elsewhere in the world. (In this regard I regard it much as I regard The Federalist Papers: a book worthy of slow digestion and extra time to chew on the topics presented.)
I've never been to law school and have no intention of going. I don't know how useful it is specifically for the aspiring lawyer. But I do think it's well worth reading for anyone interested in thinking deeply about the world and how we move through it. Highly recommended.(less)
What's to say? It's the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments, in their original forms. The...moreWhat's to say? It's the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments, in their original forms. The only adjustment is that portions of the Constitution and amendments changed by subsequent amendments are bracketed and footnoted to indicate which amendment changed them. (So, for example, the Eighteenth Amendment [instituting Prohibition] is bracketed and noted as repealed by the Twenty-First Amendment. Have you ever noticed the alcoholic beverage amendments were 18 and 21? Quite the handy coincidence!) This is an excellent portable version of the original, unmodified text of these foundational documents.
This booklet also includes a brief preface by Roger Pilon of the inestimable Cato Institute, which publishes this booklet. The preface lays out some of the historical background for the Declaration and Constitution, and it discusses their aims and goals. (I wish the preface had also discussed the context and purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment, given how fundamentally it altered our constitutional structure. Given a desire to keep the preface short, and the complexity of the topic, this absence is understandable. But it's still unfortunate.) Not surprisingly given its Cato provenance, the narrative presented is one of a broadly libertarian, limited government of enumerated powers. In any case it's easily ignored by the reader who disagrees with it, and it doesn't make this edition any less useful than any of the other pocket Constitutions out there.(less)
If you want to understand the Constitution, you should read the Federalist Papers. They present, at great length, the rationale for discarding the Art...moreIf you want to understand the Constitution, you should read the Federalist Papers. They present, at great length, the rationale for discarding the Articles of Confederation and adopting the Constitution. You really can't claim to understand the Constitution, how it works, how it fits together, and how it was intended to fit together without reading these articles. (I picked this up on the recommendation of Justice Scalia, and he was absolutely right about this being a must-read to understand the Constitution.)
(A quick note on this particular edition of the Federalist Papers: while it self-describes as an "enriched classic", it is not especially enriched. As is proper, the book includes a copy of the Constitution and its amendments -- although strangely it omits the 27th Amendment despite being published well after its ratification. [There is no included copy of the Articles of Confederation, unfortunately -- I'd definitely have found such a copy helpful, particularly since I had no other access to them when reading the book.] A notes section which explains the cultural and historical references scattered throughout the papers. A brief 7-page "Interpretive Notes" section discusses the context for the Federalist Papers. A "Critical Excerpts" section discusses early reactions to and scholarship concerning the Federalist Papers up to the present day. And there's a couple pages of questions and a few suggestions for further learning for the interested reader. Does this spare additional material really an "enriched classic" make?
There's something to be said for providing the unvarnished text, with explanatory notes that are informative but not interpretive; it's much easier for the reader to form his own opinions, uninfluenced by the biases of a commentator, when the Federalist Papers stand on their own. This is for the most part the strategy this book follows. Yet I would not call this book, for following that strategy, an "enriched classic". If you're looking for analysis of each paper in context with the papers themselves, this is not the book for you.)
The entire series is long, consisting of 85 papers of various lengths. Yet it's well worth reading and slogging through, even if you have to contend with the 1780s style of highly-educated writing to do it.
That said, I would strongly recommend not attempting to read it the way one might read any old book, starting at the beginning, reading a bunch at a stretch, then reading a bunch more at a stretch, until the entire series is read. Instead, read a paper at a time, then spend some time to think it over. Consider the arguments and how they fit together; look at how they relate to the modern day; consider what was missed in the initial analysis. Giving each article the time it requires will make this book take considerably longer than the average book of 630 pages (not including text after the articles) would take. But it's worth it.
(For a little context, I started this book a couple weeks before an Appalachian Trail thru-hike, expecting at some point to finish it and leave it in a shelter for some other hiker to read, at which point I'd pick up another book and do the same thing, as many times as it took to finish the hike. I didn't even finish this book over those 139 days of hiking, only on the flight home -- it's that dense and worthy of thought. And it's not like I was distracted by other reading, either: I only read one other book in full during that time, plus a couple hundred pages of another. And even reading with that deliberateness, I'm sure I'd get more out of it if I spent the time to read it again.)(less)
The title says it all -- this book's a short summary of the history behind the UN, the structure of the UN, the challenges facing it, and the avenues...moreThe title says it all -- this book's a short summary of the history behind the UN, the structure of the UN, the challenges facing it, and the avenues for future reform. It's a reasonably short read, although not quite one to breeze through, acronym-laden as it is (pretty much by necessity, given how the UN works).
As the author acknowledges, he's writing the book as a UN apologist. Yet at the same time, he doesn't hesitate to discuss the many times and ways the UN's fallen short of its original lofty goals. I tend to think it won't change many people's minds about the value or futility of the UN (it doesn't seem to have been written with an explicit goal of that sort), but at least it'll leave people better informed as to what the UN does and doesn't do, effectively and incompetently.(less)
The United States tax system is insane. At over 70000 pages and counting, it's impossible for any person to fully understand it. It's riddled with loo...moreThe United States tax system is insane. At over 70000 pages and counting, it's impossible for any person to fully understand it. It's riddled with loopholes and special cases, inserted over the years by politicians larding their bills to attract votes. Its incentives distort individual choices by making evasion and avoidance more attractive, it stimulates rent-seeking, and it's spawned entire industries devoted to addressing the deadweight loss from its complexity. It is almost thoroughly unlikable, and it's a system no one would ever design.
This book (also available for free online) presents an alternative tax system: the flat tax. The flat tax strips away nearly all the complexity of the current tax code, reducing the entire tax system (with a couple exceptions like the social security tax) to a handful of figures and simple calculations, stripping away nearly all special cases to eliminate loopholes and opportunities for unequal treatment. The authors reduce the entire code to a mere seven very short pages of text, understandable by any financially-savvy person. The tax forms themselves are the size of postcards.
In this book, Robert Hall and Alvin Rabushka present the rationales for the flat tax, the logic behind it, the details of how it would work, and common questions and answers about it. They labor at some length to present the complete details of the system. It's technical reading you can't simply breeze through: you'll have to work a little to understand it all, and it's best digested slowly. But any intelligent person with a little mathematical skill and mind for finance will come away from this book with significant understanding of exactly how the flat tax would work.
Merits or demerits of the proposal aside, this presentation of the flat tax is excellent. If you want to understand the flat tax, whether to praise it, to bury it, or simply because you want to be better-informed, this is the book to read.(less)
"nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation"
Thus reads the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, restr...more"nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation"
Thus reads the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, restricting the power of eminent domain: requiring that takings of private property be for "public use" and that the owner be compensated.
In this book Jeff Benedict documents the story of Susette Kelo and how the Fifth Amendment entered her life. She had found her dream home: a small fixer-upper in New London with a river view. Shortly after moving in and beginning to improve it, however, she found a notice on her door. Her land and home were in the path of economic redevelopment plans. She had two options: sell her dream house and land for whatever the city would offer, or have them taken from her through eminent domain. She and a number of her neighbors chose neither, instead fighting the city in the courts. Their argument: the land was being taken not for a public use such as to build a school or highway, but rather to transfer it from a low-tax-paying private user to a high-tax-paying private user. The legal battle eventually ended up at the Supreme Court in Kelo v. New London (2005), probably its most universally reviled decision in decades. (Special emphasis on universally: this decision, unlike most controversial decisions, was condemned pretty widely across parties, branches of government, social class, and so on.)
This book focuses on the personal stories of the people involved -- primarily upon Susette Kelo as the main named plaintiff, but also upon the other New London residents evicted from their homes. Benedict also reveals much about New London city politics, Connecticut state politics (the redevelopment plan was spearheaded by the governor's office as a way to make himself look better), the unholy union of government power with an unaccountable private corporation, and the public opinion battle fought by the Institute for Justice. The book is somewhat light on Kelo's legal case itself, which I find unfortunate but probably understandable. Throughout it remains a story of people -- not just Kelo and the other evictees, but also of people affiliated with the city government (both in support of and opposed to the redevelopment plan), of people at IJ involved in fighting the case, and of other New London residents involved at the periphery. Benedict does yeoman's work pulling together accounts from the hundreds and thousands of people involved in all this to tell a story of truly domineering, egotistic people thinking they can turn around a city while completely dismissing the costs in doing so and the chances for failure. (Which is not to say that the people on the city's side are villainized. They're portrayed as in the wrong by implication, perhaps, but there were definitely some well-meaning people on the other side -- as well as some people willing to run roughshod over anyone standing in the way of their grand plans for New London.)
Little Pink House: A True Story of Defiance and Courage doesn't have a happy ending. Kelo lost her case at the Supreme Court, and she eventually did have to leave East Street and move elsewhere. But there were silver linings. The case was as close as they come at 5-4 and came with a particularly stinging dissent from Justice O'Connor, who had authored a previous opinion which provided strong support for New London's position. Even after her Supreme Court loss the battle continued, buttressed by public support of her and by condemnation of the city and its tactics, and she was able to live in her house longer than the decision date might indicate. And in the end Kelo was able to save her house, if not the land it sat upon: as part of her settlement New London paid her enough money that she was able to move it elsewhere to stand as a testament to the threat of eminent domain abuse -- the equivalent, perhaps, of giving the finger to New London's uncaring city leaders. (Or, rather, of forcing them to give it to themselves!) Kelo's loss also spurred nationwide eminent domain reform, triggering legislative efforts and constitutional amendments in over forty states to prevent the abuses carried out in New London (although some of those efforts were mostly symbolic). And, in time, and with a change in composition of the Court, perhaps Kelo will eventually be overturned.
I would have liked a little more coverage of the legal issues in the case. But beyond that lack, this book does an excellent job of covering the back story behind one of the most notorious decisions in recent memory. Recommended if you're into law, although don't expect this book to provide a ton of law itself.(less)