"I don't think there is anyone in the academy these days capable of more patient and attentive reading of the constitutional text than Akhil Amar."Jeremy Waldron, New York Review of Books
When the stories that lead our daily news involve momentous constitutional questions, present-minded journalists and busy citizens cannot always see the stakes clearly. In The Constitution Today, Akhil Reed Amar, America's preeminent constitutional scholar, considers the biggest and most bitterly contested debates of the last two decadesfrom gun control to gay marriage, affirmative action to criminal procedure, presidential dynasties to congressional dysfunction, Bill Clinton's impeachment to Obamacare. He shows how the Constitution's text, history, and structure are a crucial repository of collective wisdom, providing specific rules and grand themes relevant to every organ of the American body politic.
Leading readers through the constitutional questions at stake in each episode while outlining his abiding views regarding the direction constitutional law must go, Amar offers an essential guide for anyone seeking to understand America's Constitution and its relevance today.
Akhil Reed Amar is the Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University. The author of several books, including America's Unwritten Constitution, and the winner of awards from both the American Bar Association and the Federalist Society, Amar lives in Woodbridge, Connecticut.
Introduction: The Constitution on Deadline 1
Part I Modern Branches
1 The Presidency: A Return to Dynasty? 23
2 The Vice Presidency: Nothing, but Maybe Everything 49
3 The Congress: How to Fix a Broken Branch 85
4 The Judiciary: Who Judges the Judges? 111
Part II Culture Wars
5 Criminal Procedure: From O. J. to DNA 155
6 Citizens Dis-United: Race, Guns, Gays, and More 217
7 Constitutional Anniversaries: Remembering to Remember 255
Part III Presidential Dramas
8 Bill Clinton's Drama: His Partisan Impeachment 273
9 George W. Bush's Drama: His Un-Popular Election 327
10 Barack Obama's Drama: His Signature Statute 359
Conclusion: Just, in Time 399
Yale law professor Amar (The Law of the Land), a frequent New York Times contributor, would seem the perfect choice to provide an accessible and engrossing look at current constitutional issues. Unfortunately, that’s not what this volume is. Instead of providing concise, original examinations of legal and cultural conflicts, Amar reprints dozens of previously written essays, including ones that are far from timely; for example, one advocates that the U.S. Supreme Court change its policies to allow note taking by the audience at oral arguments, and easy access to transcripts of those arguments—a change that has since been made. Dated references, such as to a possible Romney/Christie slate in 2012, are a distraction that updated, reworked entries would have avoided. These aren’t the only flaws—some points (suggesting that Hillary Clinton might win the presidency “in part based on her strong support” of Supreme Court judicial candidate Merrick Garland) are, at best, a logical stretch, and Amar veers too close to self-congratulation in his speculations about the influence of some of his writings. This is a missed opportunity that the knowledgeable and insightful Amar could still realize in a future book. (Sept.)
★ 09/15/2016Library Journal
Amar (Sterling Professor of Law & Political Science, Yale Univ.) is a legal luminary, best known for his scholarly texts (America's Unwritten Constitution; The Bill of Rights) and law review articles on the U.S. Constitution, his area of expertise. This tome may surprise legal academics, however, because it's a mammoth compilation of Amar's journalistic commentary on the Constitution and its mis/interpretation in the arena of culture, politics, and branches of government. The brief pieces span several decades of cases and controversies and originally appeared in the likes of The New Republic, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and Slate, inter alia. Impressively, Amar presents a panoramic view of recent history through the lens of Constitutional interpretation. Moreover, he accomplishes this in layman's language, so that his insights are accessible to general readers. Indeed, Amar's professed intent is to educate journalists on Constitutional issues, and he succeeds unequivocally, explaining what's at stake in landmark cases such as Bush v. Gore and Citizens United, while commenting on the constitutionality of the Second Amendment and the exclusionary rule. VERDICT Indispensable for fans of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's All the President's Men.—Lynne Maxwell, West Virginia Univ. Coll. of Law Lib., Morgantown
★ 2016-07-19Kirkus Reviews
From a constitutional law expert, 20 years’ worth of essays on controversial issues that have dominated the headlines.In addition to his teaching and research responsibilities, Amar (Law and Political Science/Yale Univ.; The Law of the Land: A Grand Tour of Our Constitutional Republic, 2015, etc.) has filled yet another niche “within the contemporary American constitutional ecosystem.” Acting as a “constitutional journalist,” writing for newspapers, magazines, and journals, he has regularly seized timely new hooks “on which to hang a broader argument that extends far beyond the news event putatively prompting the piece.” In this collection, the author arranges the essays under broad headings—the three branches of government, the culture wars, the dramas attending Bill Clinton’s impeachment, George W. Bush’s first election, and Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act—and prefaces individual topics with updated commentary reflecting the author’s estimation of how his on-deadline reporting has held up or his thinking has evolved. Subjects stretch from the hot-off-the-press, stalled nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court all the way back to Clinton v. Jones (1997) and the hazards of permitting a private lawsuit against a sitting president. Believing there are right and wrong answers to constitutional questions and convinced that the correct judgment usually emerges over time, Amar rigorously analyzes each issue in accessible prose, with humor and humility. He forthrightly confesses his bias as “a card-carrying Democratic scholar,” but instances abound here—on gun rights, on the exclusionary rule, on campaign finance—where the conclusions he’s reached appear to cut against his political preference. This insistence on playing fair—his willingness to, for example, praise Antonin Scalia or criticize Stephen Breyer (for whom he clerked) when the occasion demands—is one of this book’s many charms, lending credence to the sharp scrutiny the professor applies to every topic and to the predictions he makes about the course of constitutional law. Bringing an unusually informed and cool head to the tumult accompanying unfolding events, Amar performs a valuable service for his fellow citizens.
"A book on the Constitution may not have felt so urgent or timely in any other year, but in the wake of the Khan family's appearance at the Democratic National Conventionand the president-elect's subsequent affrontAmar's expert framework of our nation's most fundamental document feels desperately needed."TIME.com, Top 10 nonfiction books of 2016
"Bringing an unusually informed and cool head to the tumult accompanying unfolding events, Amar performs a valuable service for his fellow citizens."Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Amar is at his best when providing historical insights to modern-day constitutional issues... what his new book exemplifies is a consistent commitment over two decades to speak to issues beyond the academic, to engage with audiences beyond a New Haven classroom, and to use the perch and resources of his academic appointment to help the rest of us learn more about the history and principles that guide us today."Los Angeles Review of Books
"Few constitutional law scholars can write as effectively on deadline about the legally complex and politically charged issues that come before the court, and few journalists writing about the Constitution can match his command of law and history."Real Clear Politics
"Impressively, Amar presents a panoramic view of recent history through the lens of Constitutional interpretation. Moreover,
he accomplishes this in layman's language, so that his insights are accessible to general readers. Indeed, Amar's professed intent is to educate journalists on Constitutional issues, and he succeeds unequivocallyLibrary Journal, starred review
"Akhil Amar knows the Constitution and loves the Constitution. That is true of many scholars. But Amar is among the very,From the Publisher
very few who can write about the Constitution with not just deep knowledge but with insight, verve, an understanding of both history and politics, and passion, and in a way that can be appreciated by legal scholars and lay readers alike."Norman Ornstein, author of It's Even Worse Than It Looks