For the People: What the Constitution Really Says about Your Rights

For the People: What the Constitution Really Says about Your Rights

by Akhil Reed Amar, Alan Hirsch
     
 

When serving on a jury, can you ever interpret the Constitution yourself? When threatened by your city's taking of your property, do you have any recourse aside from lobbying or voting the bums out in the next election? If you disagree with a Supreme Court decision, is there anything you can do? In this bold and groundbreaking book, Akhil Reed Amar and Alan Hirsch

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Overview

When serving on a jury, can you ever interpret the Constitution yourself? When threatened by your city's taking of your property, do you have any recourse aside from lobbying or voting the bums out in the next election? If you disagree with a Supreme Court decision, is there anything you can do? In this bold and groundbreaking book, Akhil Reed Amar and Alan Hirsch answer "yes" to these questions and invite you to rediscover your Constitution. Over time, our rich constitutional rights have been obscured, along with this essential truth: We own our government, and government officials operate at our discretion. To preserve that ownership, the Framers of the Constitution gave the People crucial rights and responsibilities—which, regrettably, have faded from view. At the ballot box, in the jury room, and on the battlefield, the People wield far more rights than we generally realize.

For example, through a kind of national referendum, we may amend the Constitution. This right, though rarely acknowledged by the lawyers and government officials who today dominate conversation about the Constitution, was at the very heart of the country's founding and was recognized as fundamental by the Framers. By majority vote we could, for example, pass term limits or affirm gay rights. The Framers also gave great power to juries as representatives of the People, expected to act as checks on the power of unelected judges. Although it is another right that has fallen into disuse, in some cases jurors may interpret the Constitution themselves. And the Framers placed primary responsibility for national security in the hands of a citizen body (the militia), as opposed to a professional army, in part so the People would have recourse if the government ever turned tyrannical. How many of us are aware of these rights? How many of us might work for new referenda or view jury service differently if we became aware of them?

We—all of us, black and white, male and female, straight and gay—are sovereign in our own nation. We are the rulers; government officials are our servants. It is high time to rediscover the true meaning of our Constitution.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
A strange sight, indeed: Popular sovereignty is taken seriously in a discussion of the Constitution. In this populist interpretation of the Constitution, Amar (Law/Yale) and Hirsch (a freelance writer and graduate of Yale Law School) insist that "we the people" denotes a collective entity, not a collection of individuals. They contend that viewing the Constitution "through the prism of the individual" has overemphasized the majority-rule/minority-rights debate and has been reinforced by the tendency to dissect discrete passages rather than interpret the document as a whole. We have come to assume that "rights" refers to individual rights, ignoring the politically more fundamental conception of rights held by the public as a whole. Amar and Hirsch respond to this deficiency by exploring the implications of a broad reading (not to be confused with loose construction) of the Constitution regarding constitutional amendment, juries, and the military. In this volume's most controversial argument, the authors maintain that the specific procedures for amendment outlined in the Constitution do not preclude direct amendment by majority vote of the populace. The logic is inescapably democratic: If popular sovereignty is meaningful, how could the people be deprived of the right to amend the Constitution? Similarly, Amar and Hirsch find inalienable rights applicable to juries and the military, with straightforward implications. Peremptory challenges eliminating a candidate from jury service, for example, are not consistent with either the citizen's right to serve or the public's right to try the accused. Access to military service is no less a citizen's right or a public concern,consequently the authors argue that blocking the entry of gays or women into the ranks is indefensibleif the rights of "we the people" are truly paramount. Consistent and contentious throughout, Amar and Hirsch offer an analysis that should threaten both liberals and conservatives with a commitment to popular sovereignty both like to avoid.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780684826943
Publisher:
Free Press
Publication date:
02/02/1998
Pages:
259
Product dimensions:
6.47(w) x 9.58(h) x 1.07(d)

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