American Constitutional Law: Cases and Interpretation

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Editorial Reviews

Patricia Pauly
AMERICAN CONSTITUTIONAL LAW is one of the better constitutional law casebooks available. Professors Rossum and Tarr should be commended for producing a solid, no nonsense introduction to the major issues in constitutional law and civil liberties appropriate for an advanced undergraduate course in political science. The book is organized around three premises. First, the principles of the Constitution can best be understood by grappling with alternative positions on constitutional controversies. Second, "no interpretation of the Constitution can be evaluated properly without an appreciation of what those who initially drafted and ratified the Constitution sought to accomplish" (p. vii). And third, to focus exclusively on the judiciary is to ignore the important contributions of other governmental institutions to our understanding of the Constitution. Unlike some texts that adopt a framework only to ignore it, this text revolves around these three propositions. From the first chapter through the last, the authors present competing positions and return to the question of the framers' intent. The first chapter, "Interpretation of the Constitution," introduces students to different approaches to constitutional interpretation and explores the "means and ends" of the Constitution. These approaches are referred to throughout the introductory essays that begin each of the subsequent chapters. The substantive chapters follow in a logical sequence, beginning with the horizontal division of power among the branches of the national government (chapters 3-6), moving to the vertical distribution of power between the national and state governments (chapters 7-10), and concluding with the distribution of power between the government and the individual (chapters 11-17). Overall, the authors provide a well-rounded selection of cases dealing with the major controversies in these three areas. Consistent with the theme of competing interpretations, many of the relevant dissents and concurrences are included. Most of what one might consider the classic cases are excerpted. Only a few non- essential cases appear, but there are others I would choose to add. For example, while the nationalization of the rights of the accused is discussed in detail, the text does not consider fully the nationalization of other rights (for example, freedom of religion and speech). Similarly, although some landmark voting and representation cases, such as BAKER V. CARR and BUCKLEY V. VALEO, are treated in different chapters, voting and representation issues are not given comprehensive coverage. Chapter 12, "Freedom of Speech, Press, and Association," does not include some important cases involving commercial speech, regulation of broadcasts, fair trial/free press, or association. And there are also some important criminal procedure cases involving warrants, later limits on MIRANDA, and cruel and unusual punishment missing. Each case is preceded by an effective introduction. Relevant case facts are presented along with succinct summaries of lower court action, indicating the basis on which the lower courts ruled. These introductions also note the justices' votes. The cases themselves are well edited. The essential logic of the opinions is preserved. The only thing missing in these introductions are questions to guide the students as they read the cases. All of the non-case materials facilitate understanding of the cases. I have already noted the strong chapter on constitutional interpretation. The other introductory chapter, "Constitutional Adjudication," traces Supreme Court procedures and includes a discussion of impact. However, it presents only a thumbnail sketch of the organization of the federal judiciary and contains surprisingly little on the opinion writing process and the importance of opinions. Page 164 follows: Ample references and citations appear throughout the text. They are sufficient in number to be helpful but not to overwhelm the average undergraduate. There are relatively few boxes, tables, figures, and charts compared to other casebooks; the text, as a result, is visually uncluttered. There might be room for a few more graphics (for example, a flow chart of routes of appeal), and some features currently in the text might be drawn in more detail (for example, the structure of the federal judiciary), but the tables tracing the development of the cases are well done. In addition to the cases, the text includes some extrajudicial materials, such as statutes, congressional resolutions, and local ordinances. While references to other sources are included, the authors might also include brief excerpts from these sources, such as the Federalist Papers, to present the competing perspectives on constitutional issues more fully. The book also contains the standard appendices: the Constitution, a list of Supreme Court justices, a brief glossary of legal terms, and an index of cases. Although no name or subject index is offered, the case index is especially useful as it notes the pages on which the case excerpts appear. The clear strength of the book lies in the well organized and insightful introductory essays that begin each chapter. They set the context for the cases that follow by discussing the developments that gave rise to them. They also refer to related cases in other areas of law. An excellent concluding section ends each essay, synthesizing and integrating the major points. An annual supplement is available. It contains the relevant cases, with introductions, but does not relate these cases to the introductory essays in the text. Despite the book's many strengths, its adoption may prove problematic in schools where constitutional law and civil liberties are offered as two independent courses. In schools where the two courses are linked as a sequence, instructors may find that the book does not provide enough material for two semesters, though this might be remedied with supplementary readings from additional cases and other sources. Conversely, there is likely to be too much material for a one semester class treating both constitutional law and civil liberties. The seventeen chapters would be difficult to cover in a single semester. To do so would almost certainly require either cutting whole chapters or skipping a number of cases. I should add, however, that I would recommend the book enthusiastically if it were re-issued in a split volume format. A two volume format would retain the book's strengths and allow the authors to extend the coverage of topics that deserve fuller treatment.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312037208
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/1991
  • Edition description: 3rd ed
  • Edition number: 3
  • Pages: 848

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