The Life of the Law: The People and Cases That Have Shaped Our Society, from King Alfred to Rodney King / Edition 1

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Overview

Law is intended to apply to common life and should be comprehensible to ordinary folk, but increasingly, it is not. The meaning of the law is becoming inaccessible, not only to the public but to the bar itself. In The Life of the Law, Alfred H. Knight outlines how some of the main contours of American law came to be as he recounts twenty-one stories beginning with Alfred the Great in the late ninth century and ending with the Rodney King trials in 1993.
Knight gives us a veritable "biography" of our legal tradition by focusing on the key individuals, and the pivotal cases that have helped to mold the law as we know it today. The Life of the Law finds a riveting story behind each historic decision and recounts the tales with both narrative flair and ironic wit.
The law is a living organism, constantly changing as new cases are decided, building on and modifying decisions that went before. Every case, no matter how lofty the principles involved, represents a human drama, a clash of competing desires. Alfred Knight's reflections on how twenty-one of these cases have left their mark on our society will inform and fascinate anyone interested in the law.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Knight, a Nashville lawyer and former federal prosecutor, here makes law accessible with lively, textured sketches of landmark cases and principles. He recounts the story of the Magna Carta, which actually focused on obscure issues and mundane problems but contained the seed of modern constitutionalism: the king is subject to the law. He explains how precedent has been used to incrementally transform the common law (of liability, etc.) but has been treated more cavalierly when the Supreme Court addresses constitutional questions. Knight does not preach legal majesty: while he suggests that Court rulings on press freedom have fostered a free society, the 'trick will be to maintain that marketplace in times of peril.' Similarly, after tracing the history of the Fourth Amendment's protection against unlawful searches and seizures, Knight observes that the Court has been recently moving backward; there is no straight line of constitutional progress. In a few places -- as when he erroneously suggests that the Rodney King case was the first time the legitimacy of a jury's decision was questioned-Knight stumbles, but this is mostly a savvy popularization.
Library Journal
Knight, a practicing attorney and former federal prosecutor, has put together a brilliant compendium of 21 essays that chronicle the growth and development of individual rights and liberties within the Anglo-American legal and constitutional system. Early English proscriptions made unauthorized intrusion into the home a serious crime. Centuries later in America, an Ohio housewife was pushed aside by a squadron of Cleveland's worst [police officers], who were looking for a bomb suspect. Not finding the mad bomber, they instead tried and convicted the woman of possessing pornographic magazines, which the police accidentally discovered during the search. The U.S. Supreme Court saved the day by excluding the tainted evidence from admissibility at trial, in the process making Fourth Amendment protections equally applicable at all levels of American jurisprudence. Knight uses similar case studies to illustrate the role of the judiciary as a unifying and stabilizing force in both early England and modern America. -- Philip Y. Blue, New York State Supreme Court Criminal Branch Law Library
Library Journal
Knight, a practicing attorney and former federal prosecutor, has put together a brilliant compendium of 21 essays that chronicle the growth and development of individual rights and liberties within the Anglo-American legal and constitutional system. Early English proscriptions made unauthorized intrusion into the home a serious crime. Centuries later in America, an Ohio housewife was pushed aside by a squadron of Cleveland's worst [police officers], who were looking for a bomb suspect. Not finding the mad bomber, they instead tried and convicted the woman of possessing pornographic magazines, which the police accidentally discovered during the search. The U.S. Supreme Court saved the day by excluding the tainted evidence from admissibility at trial, in the process making Fourth Amendment protections equally applicable at all levels of American jurisprudence. Knight uses similar case studies to illustrate the role of the judiciary as a unifying and stabilizing force in both early England and modern America. -- Philip Y. Blue, New York State Supreme Court Criminal Branch Law Library
Lawyers
Knight makes the long march of Anglo-Americans seeking both justice and fairness. . .come alive and sing. His book should be required reading for all lawyers, judges, and citizens.
Kirkus Reviews
An absorbing and well-written introductory history to Anglo-American law that should edify lawyer and layperson alike. Attorney Knight's book takes its title from the famous quote of Oliver Wendell Holmes: 'The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.' Because 'the meaning of the law is becoming inaccessible not only to the public but to the bar itself,' Knight presents a cursory but engaging and useful legal history of England and America. His historical vision sees the development of law as a haphazard series of events rather than a planned, grand scheme. Indeed, elaborating on Holmes' maxim, Knight observes, 'Courts are more like theaters than laboratories, and the truth they produce is felt and apprehended, not carefully measured out.' Thus, Knight recounts legal history as discrete stories of the people and events which have shaped the major ideologies of our law. Eschewing the turgid prose and detail which typify many legal histories, Knight uses the lighter style of a storyteller, which makes for easy and enjoyable reading. The book consists of 21 chapters discussing the origins, development, and modern applications of pivotal concepts including freedom of the press, personal privacy and the rights of the criminally accused. One of the book's strengths is Knight's debunking of many popular myths. For instance, the Magna Carta did not establish a scheme of civil rights for mankind; Sir Thomas More was noble but no 'apostle of religious tolerance'; and England's Star Chamber did not conduct secret trials. No jurisprude, Knight presents little legal philosophy and scant criticism of legal doctrines; rather, he offers a light but compelling account of the lifeof the law.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195122398
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 7/28/1998
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 7.70 (w) x 5.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Alfred H. Knight is a trial lawyer specializing in media and first amendment law, and a former teaching fellow at Harvard Law School. He is currently a partner at Willis & Knight in Nashville, Tennessee.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1 Nationalizing English Justice (Late Ninth Century) 7
2 The Rule of Law (1215) 16
3 The Bar Is Born (1291) 26
4 Binding Precedent (1454) 33
5 Man Against the State (1535) 49
6 The Right to Confront Accusers (1603) 62
7 Judicial Review (1610) 71
8 The Death of a Scapegoat (1641) 79
9 The Privilege Against Self-incrimination (1649) 89
10 Freedom of the Press (1735) 100
11 Unreasonable Searches and Seizures (1761-65) 115
12 The Bill of Rights (1791) 126
13 Constructive Treason (1807) 137
14 Equality as Law (1853) 152
15 Unreasonable Searches and Seizures, Continued (1886) 163
16 The Right of Privacy (1890) 176
17 Nationalizing American Justice (1913-23) 185
18 The Right to Counsel (1942) 198
19 Equality as Law, Continued 216
20 Freedom of the Press, Continued (1964) 228
21 Trial by Jury (1993) 243
Epilogue 259
Notes 267
Index 275
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