The Dirty Dozen: How Twelve Supreme Court Cases Radically Expanded Government and Eroded Freedom

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A non-lawyer's guide to the worst Supreme Court decisions of the modern era

The Dirty Dozen takes on twelve Supreme Court cases that changed American history—and yet are not well known to most Americans.

Starting in the New Deal era, the Court has allowed breathtaking expansions of government power that significantly reduced individual rights and abandoned limited federal ...

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A non-lawyer's guide to the worst Supreme Court decisions of the modern era

The Dirty Dozen takes on twelve Supreme Court cases that changed American history—and yet are not well known to most Americans.

Starting in the New Deal era, the Court has allowed breathtaking expansions of government power that significantly reduced individual rights and abandoned limited federal government as envisioned by the founders.

For example:
Helvering v. Davis (1937) allowed the government to take money from some and give it to others, without any meaningful constraints
Wickard v. Filburn (1942) let Congress use the interstate commerce clause to regulate even the most trivial activities—neither interstate nor commerce
Kelo v. City of New London (2005) declared that the government can seize private property and transfer it to another private owner

Levy and Mellor untangle complex Court opinions to explain how The Dirty Dozen harmed ordinary Americans. They argue for a Supreme Court that will enforce what the Constitution actually says about civil liberties, property rights, racial preferences, gun ownership, and many other controversial issues.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Cato Institute senior fellow Levy and lawyer Mellor, in this excellent examination of twelve far-reaching Supreme Court cases and their consequences, force readers to question the direction in which the judiciary has led our country over the past century-and possibly their own attitudes toward the federal government. The authors deftly navigate the complicated proceedings without slipping into lawyer-speak, while unapologetically leaning on their libertarian sentiments to color their commentary and analysis. Though the writers defend well their claim that the dozen cases under discussion-with a number of "dishonorable mentions" and an appendix each for Roe v. Wade and Bush v. Gore-have expanded the federal government and eroded civil liberties, one can't help but feel a creeping sense of arrogance when Levy and Mellor assert repeatedly that they know how the Constitution's authors would view the document were they alive today. Still, the authors' canny investigation into the Supreme Court should call into doubt some of the staid political viewpoints readers may have taken too long for granted.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Levy (senior fellow, Cato Inst.) and Mellor (president & general counsel, Inst. for Justice), both affiliated with libertarian think tanks, have chosen 12 Supreme Court cases that, in their opinion, severely limited individual rights through the expansion of government. As their introduction makes clear, they are conservatives who favor limited government intervention, and the cases they have chosen reflect their position. The chapters are organized by the constitutional issues raised by each case, such as promoting the general welfare, regulating interstate commerce, and property rights. The authors' critiques of these issues are sure to provoke debate. However, they do examine each case on the basis of legal reasoning and in each chapter lay out the flaws in the Court's thinking that make each decision in their view a "bad" one. These explanations are the strong points of the book. Although some readers will disagree with their viewpoint, Levy and Mellor have done a good job of explaining their thinking. Public libraries may be interested in this book for legal collections, but academic libraries can find other, more scholarly titles.
—Becky Kennedy

Kirkus Reviews
Two conservative lawyers register their outrage at the Supreme Court's "back door" expansion of government and erosion of civil rights. Cato Institute scholar Levy and Institute for Justice president (and former Reagan counsel) Mellor unabashedly assert that their interpretation of the Constitution is "committed to the values of individual liberty, private property, and free markets." The dozen cases they examine, in their view, betrayed the principles of the Founding Fathers and vastly enlarged federal power over the course of the 20th century, specifically from the New Deal onward. The book is organized thematically, with four cases grouped under "Expanding Government" and eight under "Eroding Freedom." For each, the authors outline the facts, then offer their explanation of where the courts went wrong and what the implications are. Helvering v. Davis (1937) upheld the legality of the Social Security Act by embracing the "general welfare" clause in the Constitution; the authors call this an authorization to "rob Peter in order to pay Paul." They view Wickard v. Filburn (1942) as a pernicious expansion of the Constitution's Interstate Commerce Clause. Such cases as Whitman v. American Trucking Associations, Inc. (2001), they contend, have fostered the concentration of power in the hands of unelected administrative agencies. The authors deplore the expansive view of eminent domain taken in Kelo v. City of New London (2005), seeing its roots in earlier decisions supporting urban renewal. They scornfully critique the court's upholding of affirmative action in higher education in Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), and they also blast the justices for affirming the legality of interningJapanese-Americans during World War II in Korematsu v. United States (1944), a clear violation of civil rights. In every instance, they advocate a narrow view of constitutional restraints, as opposed to a "living Constitution" flexible to changing modern needs. Grating at times, but these sternly libertarian arguments keep the constitutional dialogue lively and accessible.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781935308270
  • Publisher: Cato Institute
  • Publication date: 2/16/2010
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 684,325
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert A. Levy is senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute. He has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and many other publications. William Mellor is the president and general counsel of the Institute for Justice. He litigates constitutional cases involving economic liberty, property rights, school choice, and free speech.

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Table of Contents

Foreword Richard A. Epstein Epstein, Richard A.

Pt. 1 Expanding Government

Ch. 1 Promoting the General Welfare 19

The Dirty Dozen List: Helvering v. Davis (1937)

Dishonorable Mention: United States v. Butler (1936)

Ch. 2 Regulating Interstate Commerce 37

The Dirty Dozen List: Wickard v. Filbum (1942)

Dishonorable Mention: Gonzales v. Raith (200S)

Ch. 3 Rescinding Private Contracts 50

The Dirty Dozen List: Home Building & Loan Association v. Blaisdell (1934)

Dishonorable Mention: Gold Clause Cases (1935)

Ch. 4 Lawmaking by Administrative Agencies 67

The Dirty Dozen List: Whitman v. American Trucking Associations, Inc. (2001)

Pt. 2 Eroding Freedom

Ch. 5 Campaign Finance Reform and Free Speech 89

The Dirty Dozen List: McConnell v. Federal Election Commission (2003)

Dishonorable Mention: Buckley v. Valeo (1976)

Ch. 6 Gun Owners' Rights 107

The Dirty Dozen List: United States v. Miller (1939)

Ch. 7 Civil Liberties Versus National Security 127

The Dirty Dozen List: Korematsu v. United States (1944)

Ch. 8 Asset Foifeiture Without Due Process 143

The Dirty Dozen List: Bennis v. Michigan (1996)

Ch. 9 Eminent Domain for Private Use 155

The Dirty Dozen List: Kelo v. City of New London (2005)

Dishonorable Mention: Berman v. Parker (1954)

Ch. 10 Taking Property by Regulation 169

The Dirty Dozen List: Penn Central Transportation Co. v. NewYork (1978)

Dishonorable Mention: Tahoe-Sierra Preservation Council, Inc., v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (2002)

Ch. 11 Earning an Honest Living 181

The Dirty Dozen List: United States v. Carolene Products (1938)

DishonorableMention: Nebbia v. New York (1934)

Ch. 12 Equal Protection and Racial Preferences 198

The Dirty Dozen List: Grutter v. Bollinger (2003)

Dishonorable Mention: Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978)

Afterword: Judicial Activism and Tomorrow's Supreme Court 215

Postscript #1: Roe v. Wade (1973) 225

Postscript #2: Bush v. Gore (2000) 229

The Constitution of the United States of America 235

Table of Cases 255

Notes 261

Index 291

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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2008

    The Country of July 4th 1776, no longer legally exists...why, or what, are you celebrating on July 4th?

    Authors did well explaining how the Court, in Wickard v Filburn, granted Federal Jurisdiction over INTRA state regulation, by reversing the definition of the INTER state Commerce Clause in Article 1. This rewriting of The Commerce Clause, without the constitution's amendment process, did an end run around the 10th amendment in the Bill of Rights, rendering it without any practical relevant application anymore. The 10th amendment was 'back-door' repealed. If Chapter 8's Carolene Products case doesn't scare you entrepreneurs to death, then you're already dead.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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