The History Book Club discussion


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message 1: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 35521 comments Mod
This is a thread which can be used to discuss the roles and the responsibilities of the three branches of the United States government. Here we can discuss and post various books (non fiction and/or historical fiction) which discuss one or more of these three branches.

message 2: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (MsTaz) | 5637 comments Not everyone agrees with Posner but he is respected for his intellect.

How Judges Think by Richard A. Posner by Richard A. PosnerRichard A. Posner
Posner is unique in the world of American jurisprudence, a highly regarded U.S. appellate judge and a prolific and controversial writer on legal philosophy. Opinionated, sarcastic and argumentative as ever, Posner is happy to weigh in not only on how judges think, but how he thinks they should think. When sticking to explaining the nine intellectual approaches to judging that he identifies, and to the gap between legal academics and judges, and his well-formulated pragmatic approach to judging, Posner is insightful, accessible, often funny and a model of clarity. (Publishers Weekly )

Posner's latest book, How Judges Think, is important, if only because it's Posner looking at his own profession from the inside. Two of the chapters, "Judges Are Not Law Professors" and "Is Pragmatic Adjudication Inescapable?," are worth the price of admission by themselves. The book can be read as one long screed against the jurisprudence of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and stands as a refutation to those who believe the category of conservative can lazily be applied to a mind as independent as Posner's.
--Barry Gewen (New York Times online )

A prolific and brilliant writer, Posner's How Judges Think is perhaps his most illuminating work for its profound, and sometimes polemical, insights into the judicial process...Judge Posner's examination of the issues is thorough, scholarly and riveting. He has written an important book--a must read not just for lawyers, but also for anyone who wants to understand how the inscrutable, and sometimes oracular, process of judging really works.
--James D. Zirin ( )

message 3: by Alisa (last edited Dec 04, 2011 08:42AM) (new)

Alisa (MsTaz) | 5637 comments First hand perspective of what goes on in a criminal courtroom, day in and day out.

Courtroom 302 A Year Behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse by Steve Bogira by Steve Bogira

Courtroom 302 is the fascinating story of one year in Chicago's Cook County Criminal Courthouse, the busiest felony courthouse in the country. Here we see the system through the eyes of the men and women who experience it, not only in the courtroom but in the lockup, the jury room, the judge's chambers, the spectators' gallery. From the daily grind of the court to the highest-profile case of the year, Steve Bogira’s masterful investigation raises fundamental issues of race, civil rights, and justice in America.

message 4: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (MsTaz) | 5637 comments This looks interesting.
The Collapse of American Criminal Justice by William J. Stuntz by William J. Stuntz
The rule of law has vanished in America’s criminal justice system. Prosecutors now decide whom to punish and how severely. Almost no one accused of a crime will ever face a jury. Inconsistent policing, rampant plea bargaining, overcrowded courtrooms, and ever more draconian sentencing have produced a gigantic prison population, with black citizens the primary defendants and victims of crime. In this passionately argued book, the leading criminal law scholar of his generation looks to history for the roots of these problems—and for their solutions.

The Collapse of American Criminal Justice takes us deep into the dramatic history of American crime—bar fights in nineteenth-century Chicago, New Orleans bordellos, Prohibition, and decades of murderous lynching. Digging into these crimes and the strategies that attempted to control them, Stuntz reveals the costs of abandoning local democratic control. The system has become more centralized, with state legislators and federal judges given increasing power. The liberal Warren Supreme Court’s emphasis on procedures, not equity, joined hands with conservative insistence on severe punishment to create a system that is both harsh and ineffective.

What would get us out of this Kafkaesque world? More trials with local juries; laws that accurately define what prosecutors seek to punish; and an equal protection guarantee like the one that died in the 1870s, to make prosecution and punishment less discriminatory. Above all, Stuntz eloquently argues, Americans need to remember again that criminal punishment is a necessary but terrible tool, to use effectively, and sparingly.

message 5: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (MsTaz) | 5637 comments Judicial Process in America

Judicial Process in America by Robert A. Carp by Robert A. Carp (no photo)

The eighth edition of Judicial Process in America gives a thorough overview of the American judiciary, paying particular attention to the relationship between the courts and the political environment in which they operate. While analyzing the courts at every level, the authors comprehensively cover judges, lawyers, litigants, and the powerful variables that influence judicial decision making, effectively linking the courts to public policy. Inclusion of multiple new cases, as well as discussion of the Obama administrations latest judicial appointments, makes this book incredibly current. Adopters and students alike will also appreciate the unique annotated U.S. Constitution found in the appendix. This extensive revision of a classic text brings new life to a standard-bearer for judicial process classes.

message 6: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (MsTaz) | 5637 comments Advice and Consent: The Politics of Judicial Appointments

Advice and Consent The Politics of Judicial Appointments by Lee Epstein by Lee Epstein (no photo)

From Louis Brandeis to Robert Bork to Clarence Thomas, the nomination of federal judges has generated intense political conflict. With the coming retirement of one or more Supreme Court Justices--and threats to filibuster lower court judges--the selection process is likely to be, once again, the center of red-hot partisan debate.

In Advice and Consent, two leading legal scholars, Lee Epstein and Jeffrey A. Segal, offer a brief, illuminating Baedeker to this highly important procedure, discussing everything from constitutional background, to crucial differences in the nomination of judges and justices, to the role of the Judiciary Committee in vetting nominees. Epstein and Segal shed light on the role played by the media, by the American Bar Association, and by special interest groups (whose efforts helped defeat Judge Bork). Though it is often assumed that political clashes over nominees are a new phenomenon, the authors argue that the appointment of justices and judges has always been a highly contentious process--one largely driven by ideological and partisan concerns. The reader discovers how presidents and the senate have tried to remake the bench, ranging from FDR's controversial "court packing" scheme to the Senate's creation in 1978 of 35 new appellate and 117 district court judgeships, allowing the Democrats to shape the judiciary for years. The authors conclude with possible "reforms," from the so-called nuclear option, whereby a majority of the Senate could vote to prohibit filibusters, to the even more dramatic suggestion that Congress eliminate a judge's life tenure either by term limits or compulsory retirement.

With key appointments looming on the horizon, Advice and Consent provides everything concerned citizens need to know to understand the partisan rows that surround the judicial nominating process.

message 7: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (MsTaz) | 5637 comments Judges on Judging: Views from the Bench

Judges on Judging Views from the Bench by David M. O'Brien by David M. O'Brien (no photo)

Thoroughly revised, with expanded historical and international coverage, Judges on Judging offers insights into the judicial philosophies and political views of those on the bench. In this wide-ranging collection, Supreme Court justices, as well as lower federal and state court judges, discuss the judicial process, constitutional and statutory interpretation, judicial federalism, and the role of the judiciary. New selections come from such distinguished jurists as Judge Jerome Frank (U.S. Court of Appeals), Judge D. Brock Hornby (U.S. District Court), Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. (Supreme Court of the United States), Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo (Supreme Court of the United States), and Chief Justice Aharon Barak (Supreme Court of Israel). With updated introductions to provide readers with necessary thematic and historical context, this book is the perfect supplement to present a nuanced view of the judiciary.

message 8: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (MsTaz) | 5637 comments Act of Congress: How America's Essential Institution Works, and How It Doesn't

Act of Congress How America's Essential Institution Works, and How It Doesn't by Robert G. Kaiser by Robert G. Kaiser (no photo)

An eye-opening account of how Congress today really works—and doesn’t—that follows the dramatic journey of the sweeping financial reform bill enacted in response to the Great Crash of 2008.

The founding fathers expected Congress to be the most important branch of government and gave it the most power. When Congress is broken—as its justifiably dismal approval ratings suggest—so is our democracy. Here, Robert G. Kaiser, whose long and distinguished career at The Washington Post has made him as keen and knowledgeable an observer of Congress as we have, takes us behind the sound bites to expose the protocols, players, and politics of the House and Senate—revealing both the triumphs of the system and (more often) its fundamental flaws.

Act of Congress tells the story of the Dodd-Frank Act, named for the two men who made it possible: Congressman Barney Frank, brilliant and sometimes abrasive, who mastered the details of financial reform, and Senator Chris Dodd, who worked patiently for months to fulfill his vision of a Senate that could still work on a bipartisan basis. Both Frank and Dodd collaborated with Kaiser throughout their legislative efforts and allowed their staffs to share every step of the drafting and deal making that produced the 1,500-page law that transformed America’s financial sector.

Kaiser explains how lobbying affects a bill—or fails to. We follow staff members more influential than most senators and congressmen. We see how Congress members protect their own turf, often without regard for what might best serve the country—more eager to court television cameras than legislate on complicated issues about which many of them remain ignorant. Kaiser shows how ferocious partisanship regularly overwhelms all other considerations, though occasionally individual integrity prevails.
Act of Congress, as entertaining as it is enlightening, is an indispensable guide to a vital piece of our political system desperately in need of reform.

message 9: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (MsTaz) | 5637 comments Saving Justice: Watergate, the Saturday Night Massacre and Other Adventures of a Solicitor General

Saving Justice Watergate, the Saturday Night Massacre and Other Adventures of a Solicitor General by ROBERT H BORK by Robert H. Bork (no photo)

In June 1973, Judge Robert Bork was plucked from a quiet life of academia at Yale University and planted in the tumultuous soil of constitutional crisis by a Nixon administration barreling toward collapse. From the ousting of Vice President Spiro Agnew to the discharge of the Watergate special prosecutor, an event known as the Saturday Night Massacre, Saving Justice offers a firsthand, insider account of the whirlwind of events that engulfed the administration during the last half of 1973 and the first few months of 1974. This important volume provides a revelatory look into the inner workings of the Justice Department during some of the most consequential months of the Nixon administration.

message 10: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (MsTaz) | 5637 comments Interesting issue that will be making its way through the court system.

Court to Decide if Lawyers Can Block Gays From Juries
July 29, 2013

WASHINGTON — Last month’s Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage were major gay rights victories. But countless questions about the legal rights of gay men and lesbians remain.

Here’s one: May gays be excluded from juries on account of their sexual orientation? The federal appeals court in California will soon decide the issue, which turns out to be surprisingly knotty.

It arose at the 2011 trial of an antitrust fight between two giant drug companies. After a potential juror appeared to reveal that he was gay, a lawyer for Abbott Laboratories used a peremptory strike — one that does not require a reason — to eliminate him from the jury pool.

An opposing lawyer objected, saying the juror “is or appears to be, could be, homosexual.”

That mattered, the lawyer said, because “the litigation involves AIDS medications” and “the incidence of AIDS in the homosexual community is well known, particularly gay men.”

In legal terms, the lawyer had just tried to raise a Batson challenge, named after a 1986 Supreme Court decision, Batson v. Kentucky. That decision recognized an exception to the general rule that peremptory challenges are completely discretionary. Race, the court said, cannot be the reason.

Eight years later, the court said that gender cannot be the reason, either. But it has never addressed sexual orientation.

At the antitrust trial, in SmithKline Beecham Corporation v. Abbott Laboratories, things quickly got confusing, with the judge uncertain about the law and the Abbott Laboratories lawyer missing an opportunity to protect his client.

“I don’t know that, number one, Batson applies in civil,” said Judge Claudia Wilken of Federal District Court in Oakland, Calif. But Batson does apply in both civil litigations and criminal prosecutions.

“Number two,” she went on, now on firmer ground, “whether Batson ever applies to sexual orientation.”

“Number three,” she said, “there is no way for us to know who is gay and who isn’t here, unless someone happens to say something.”

Nonetheless, she offered the Abbott Laboratories lawyer, Jeffrey I. Weinberger, a chance to offer a neutral reason for his peremptory strike. “Or if you don’t want to,” she said, “you can stand on my first three reasons.”

Mr. Weinberger took the judge up on her offer. “I will stand on the first three at this point,” he said, adding of the juror: “I have no idea whether he is gay or not.”

Declining to give a reason was probably a tactical error. It takes very little to respond to a Batson objection. Almost anything will do.

The reason does not have to be, the Supreme Court has said, “persuasive, or even plausible.” One reason the court found sufficient: a prosecutor said he did not care for a potential juror’s “long curly hair” and “mustache and a goatee-type beard.”

Mr. Weinberger did not lack other explanations for striking the seemingly gay potential juror. He could have cited the juror’s work as a computer technician at the same federal appeals court that will decide whether his exclusion was proper, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Or that the juror had been close to someone who had H.I.V.

But what Mr. Weinberger did say, that he had no idea whether the juror was gay, ran counter to what the juror had said. The juror, a man, said of “my partner” that “he’s retired,” that “he doesn’t have to work” and that “he just has studied economics and does investments.”

This juror’s sexual orientation seems tolerably clear. But that will not always be the case without intrusive questioning. Abbott Laboratories told the Ninth Circuit that allowing challenges based on sexual orientation “would present formidable practical problems.”

That sounds right. But California law has barred peremptory challenges based on sexual orientation in state courts for more than a decade, and the system seems to work.

Excluding gay men and lesbians from jury service, a state appeals court explained, “would send an intolerable message.” At the same time, the court said, potential jurors should not be questioned about their sexual orientations.

“If it comes out somehow,” Judge William W. Bedsworth wrote for the court, “the parties will doubtless factor it into their jury selection process, just as they factor in occupation, education, body language and whether the juror resembles their stupid Uncle Cletus.”

A ruling that gay people may not be excluded from juries in federal court would be a powerful symbolic step. But it would probably have little practical effect given how easy it is for a lawyer to offer a neutral-sounding reason.

Meaningful changes to the jury selection process would require the solution proposed by Justice Thurgood Marshall in a concurrence in Batson itself.

“The decision today will not end the racial discrimination that peremptories inject into the jury selection process,” Justice Marshall wrote. “That goal can be accomplished only by eliminating peremptory challenges entirely.”

Doing away with peremptory challenges would still allow lawyers to object to potential jurors for cause. But lawyers would have to persuade a judge that the potential juror would not be able to weigh the evidence in a case fairly and impartially.

In a 2005 concurrence, Justice Stephen G. Breyer appeared to endorse Justice Marshall’s view, saying that “peremptory challenges seem increasingly anomalous in our judicial system.” He noted that England had eliminated peremptory challenges but “continues to administer fair trials based largely on random jury selection.”

“I believe it necessary,” Justice Breyer wrote, “to reconsider Batson’s test and the peremptory challenge system as a whole.”


message 11: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 35521 comments Mod
You could understand the opposing attorney's views - they ask about whether a person would be biased for any reason - sometimes they ask if any relation was or is a law enforcement officer or many other kinds of relationships.

I think the relationship issue does have a bearing although on the surface this looks like it is biased against gays but I don't think it was although many might disagree with me.

message 12: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (MsTaz) | 5637 comments I can see where it would be a thorny issue in this case. The judge gave the lawyer some good options, but these Batson challenges are on the rise. It would not surprise me to see more cases like this bubble up.

message 13: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 35521 comments Mod
I think so

message 14: by Jill (new)

Jill Hutchinson (Bucs1960) I found this book fascinating as we get a look behind the scenes at the Court. I was lucky enough to meet and speak with the author at a cocktail party at our Governor's residence. He was gracious and a very interesting man.

The Brethren Inside the Supreme Court by Bob Woodward by Bob WoodwardBob Woodward


The Brethren is the first detailed behind-the-scenes account of the Supreme Court in action. Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong have pierced its secrecy to give us an unprecedented view of the Chief and Associate Justices -- maneuvering, arguing, politicking, compromising and making decisions that affect every major area of American life.

message 15: by Bryan, Honorary Contributor - EMERITUS (new)

Bryan Craig | 11689 comments Mod
Very cool

message 16: by Jill (new)

Jill Hutchinson (Bucs1960) How it all works in a constitutional democracy.

Constitutionalism and the Separation of Powers

Constitutionalism and the Separation of Powers by M.J.C. Vile by M.J.C. Vile (no photo)


Arguably no political principle has been more central than the separation of powers to the evolution of constitutional governance in Western democracies. In the definitive work on the subject, M. J. C. Vile traces the history of the doctrine from its rise during the English Civil War, through its development in the eighteenth century—when it was indispensable to the founders of the American republic—through subsequent political thought and constitution-making in Britain, France, and the United States. The author concludes with an examination of criticisms of the doctrine by both behavioralists and centralizers—and with "A Model of a Theory of Constitutionalism." The new Liberty Fund second edition includes the entirety of the original 1967 text published by Oxford, a major epilogue entitled "The Separation of Powers and the Administrative State," and a bibliography.

message 17: by Alisa (new)

Alisa (MsTaz) | 5637 comments God Vs. the Gavel Religion and the Rule of Law by Marci A. Hamilton by Marci A. Hamilton (no photo)


God vs. the Gavel challenges the pervasive assumption that all religious conduct deserves constitutional protection. While religious conduct provides many benefits to society, it is not always benign. The thesis of the book is that anyone who harms another person should be governed by the laws that govern everyone else - and truth be told, religion is capable of great harm.

message 18: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 35521 comments Mod
Thank you Jill and Alisa

message 19: by Ken (new)

Ken Moten | 30 comments Presidential Greatness by Marc Landyby Marc Landy & Sidney M. Milkis (no photos)


This book is an examination of what, the authors feel, presidential greatness is. It examines 5 Presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin D. Roosevelt and argues that these were the only great presidents and no one since FDR (not even Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan) has risen to the level of greatness. To be a great president does not mean being a morally good person for the authors. To be great means to a.) leave a legacy and b.) be a "conservative revolutionary" (i.e. changing the way things are done by building on and, inevitably, surpassing those who came before).

The authors feel that no one since FDR can be called great Presidents. LBJ and Reagan came closes for them but were either too revolutionary (LBJ) or too conservative (Reagan). I am still gathering my feelings on the book, though I like its presentation and some of its arguments, I am spoiled with places/points to disagree with the authors.

message 20: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 35521 comments Mod
Thank you Ken you did a great job with the format. We put a colon after Synopsis: but you have the mod format down.

This looks like a terrific book - thank you for the add and the format.

message 21: by Jill (last edited Feb 15, 2015 03:26PM) (new)

Jill Hutchinson (Bucs1960) The Power of Separation: American Constitutionalism and the Myth of the Legislative Veto

The Power of Separation American Constitutionalism and the Myth of the Legislative Veto by Jessica Korn by Jessica Korn (no photo)


Jessica Korn challenges the widespread notion that the eighteenth-century principles underlying the American separation of powers system are incompatible with the demands of twentieth-century governance. She demonstrates the continuing relevance of these principles by questioning the dominant scholarship on the legislative veto. As a short-cut through constitutional procedure invented in the 1930s and invalidated by the Supreme Court's Chadha decision in 1983, the legislative veto has long been presumed to have been a powerful mechanism of congressional oversight. Korn's analysis, however, shows that commentators have exaggerated the legislative veto's significance as a result of their incorrect assumption that the separation of powers was designed solely to check governmental authority. In fact, the Framers also designed constitutional structure to empower the new national government, institutionalizing a division of labor among the three branches in order to enhance the government's capacity to perform legislative, executive, and judicial functions well. Through case studies of the legislative vetoes governing the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Education, and the president's authority to extend most-favored-nation trade status, Korn demonstrates how the extensive and flexible powers that the Constitution grants to Congress made the legislative veto short-cut inconsequential to policy-making.

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Books mentioned in this topic

How Judges Think (other topics)
Courtroom 302: A Year Behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse (other topics)
The Collapse of American Criminal Justice (other topics)
Judicial Process in America (other topics)
Advice and Consent: The Politics of Judicial Appointments (other topics)

Authors mentioned in this topic

Richard A. Posner (other topics)
Steve Bogira (other topics)
William J. Stuntz (other topics)
Robert A. Carp (other topics)
Lee Epstein (other topics)