Looking for Rights in All the Wrong Places: Why State Constitutions Contain America's Positive Rights

Overview

Unlike many national constitutions, which contain explicit positive rights to such things as education, a living wage, and a healthful environment, the U.S. Bill of Rights appears to contain only a long list of prohibitions on government. American constitutional rights, we are often told, protect people only from an overbearing government, but give no explicit guarantees of governmental help. Looking for Rights in All the Wrong Places argues that we have fundamentally misunderstood the American rights tradition. ...

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Looking for Rights in All the Wrong Places: Why State Constitutions Contain America's Positive Rights

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Overview

Unlike many national constitutions, which contain explicit positive rights to such things as education, a living wage, and a healthful environment, the U.S. Bill of Rights appears to contain only a long list of prohibitions on government. American constitutional rights, we are often told, protect people only from an overbearing government, but give no explicit guarantees of governmental help. Looking for Rights in All the Wrong Places argues that we have fundamentally misunderstood the American rights tradition. The United States actually has a long history of enshrining positive rights in its constitutional law, but these rights have been overlooked simply because they are not in the federal Constitution.

Emily Zackin shows how they instead have been included in America's state constitutions, in large part because state governments, not the federal government, have long been primarily responsible for crafting American social policy. Although state constitutions, seemingly mired in trivial detail, can look like pale imitations of their federal counterpart, they have been sites of serious debate, reflect national concerns, and enshrine choices about fundamental values. Zackin looks in depth at the history of education, labor, and environmental reform, explaining why America's activists targeted state constitutions in their struggles for government protection from the hazards of life under capitalism.

Shedding much-needed light on the variety of reasons that activists pursued the creation of new state-level rights, Looking for Rights in All the Wrong Places challenges us to rethink our most basic assumptions about the American constitutional tradition.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is an excellent contribution to the literature and yet another compelling reason that scholars should not limit themselves to only the federal Constitution and courts."Choice

"I am hopeful that Zackin's thoughtful and timely book will invigorate the debate, reminding readers along the way of the vibrant role states have played, and should continue to play, in defining new statutory and constitutional rights. Whether 'we want more' rights or not, we would be lucky to have more scholarship from Zackin about the states' essential role in the American constitutional law tradition."—Jeffrey S. Sutton, Harvard Law Review

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Emily Zackin is assistant professor of political science at Hunter College, City University of New York.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii
Chapter 1: Looking for Rights in All the Wrong Places 1
Chapter 2: Of Ski Trails and State Constitutions: Silly Details or Serious Principles? 18
Chapter 3: Defining Positive Rights 36
Chapter 4: Why Write New Rights?: Understanding Constitutional Development Apart From Entrenchment 48
Chapter 5: Education: A Long Tradition of Positive Rights in America 67
Chapter 6: Workers' Rights: Constitutional Protections Where (and When) We Would Least Expect Them 106
Chapter 7: Environmental Protection: Positive Constitutional Rights in the Late Twentieth Century 146
Chapter 8: Conclusion 197
Bibliography 215
Index 229

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