With the third edition of THE SUPREME COURT AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS, Congressional Quarterly adds to an extensive published collection of works that serve as texts and reference sources for those interested in law and the judicial process. Drawing on their experience as reporters and editors, Joan Biskupic and Elder Witt present a clearly written overview of a comprehensive set of leading Supreme Court decisions on individual rights. While such an effort usually results in a voluminous treatise that few would dare read in its entirety, Biskupic and Witt manage to synthesize an enormous amount of doctrine into three hundred pages without sacrificing too much in terms of depth of understanding. Punctuated with inserts (set off from the text in boxes) with interesting asides on lesser known holdings of the Court, this book successfully leads readers of all backgrounds through what can be rough and vast terrain: case law examining individual rights. However, it should be emphasized that while the book presents excerpts from cases, it is clearly not a casebook. In this respect, readers may learn the "basics" on the legal standards used to evaluate individual rightsÆ claims, but they will not develop their understanding of legal reasoning in constitutional legal interpretation. Instead, the authors focus on providing information on court rulings within a framework that emphasizes the historical and political context.
The organization of THE SUPREME COURT AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS parallels the structure generally followed in most civil liberties textbooks. The first chapter provides a brief history of the events surrounding the addition of the Bill of Rights to the Constitution, the passage of the Civil War amendments, and the shift in approaches marked by Justice StoneÆs footnote #4 in the Carolene Products case. This chapter also provides a thumbnail sketch of the analyses presented in the remainder of the book. The second, and longest, chapter focuses on freedom for ideas. Here, the authors detail the development of Supreme Court case law in First Amendment issues--freedom of speech, press, and religion. The review of decisions dealing with freedom of the press is particularly informative for those who have not had the occasion to delve into many cases in this area. Although they provide an overview of issues, including free press claims, in the initial pages of the chapter, Biskupic and Witt present a more detailed outline of case law affecting the press before discussing these specific holdings. This layering approach helps the reader develop an overall sense of Court doctrine that is reinforced and refined through the more detailed discussion of Court rulings. Their selection of decisions includes cases typically found in most texts as well as leading decisions that are frequently overlooked. By including more cases, Biskupic and Witt give the reader a better sense of the variety of issues and claims involved. In the discussion of free press issues and holdings, Biskupic and Witt organized their presentation around issues of prior restraint, libel, conflict with fair trial rights, and access/confidentiality. Within each of these areas, the authors provide a brief, but comprehensive look at Supreme Court doctrine that includes some interesting cases. For example, when analyzing decisions dealing with confidentiality, the authors detail the facts surrounding several cases where the Court refused to recognize a constitutional privilege of journalists in grand jury investigations (BRANSBURG V. HAYES, IN RE PAPPAS, US V. CALDWELL) and held that the First Amendment did not protect newsrooms from police searches (ZURCHER V. THE STANFORD DAILY).
In the third chapter, Biskupic and Witt provide a straightforward account of decisions dealing with voting rights and freedom of association. This chapter is particularly valuable for those with little background in this area. The authors present an interesting description of the efforts to disenfranchise African Americans and the actions of the Supreme Court and Congress to ensure minorities the right to vote. This chapter also lays out an easy- to- read analysis of the issues and Court rulings dealing with "one person, one vote" as it traces case law from Baker v. Carr through the 1995 decision invalidating GeorgiaÆs congressional redistricting plan.
In the last chapter examining issues of equality, the Biskupic-Witt organizational formula for success repeats itself as the authors open with a general sketch of the historical development of case law dealing with race-based discrimination, equal protection for aliens, and gender equality after which they offer extensive discussions of doctrine in each one of these three areas. Their analysis of racial discrimination extends well beyond claims involving education to include housing, travel, and accommodations. By including cases such as WARTH V. SELDIN and HEART OF ATLANTA, Biskupic and Witt also make the reader aware that cases involving discriminatory practices do not necessarily raise equal protection issues. The material presented also emphasizes the importance of civil rights statutes and Supreme Court doctrine interpreting those statutes in efforts to eradicate discrimination. Biskupic and Witt offer a particularly strong analysis of claims involving gender equality which includes a discussion of the paternalistic attitudes that shaped law and court doctrine for so many years and a clear, concise analysis of leading Supreme Court employment discrimination decisions involving Title VII claims.
In contrast to the rest of the book, the chapter on criminal procedure may not be as helpful to the reader. The sharp organizational framework that characterizes other chapters is less so here. In particular, the section on search and seizure does not give the reader any clear sense of the kinds of claims that may be raised or a framework used by the Court evaluate these claims. While one may argue that the Court also has been unclear in search and seizure decisions, this analysis of doctrine may not help the confused. For example, I located their only discussion of the open fields doctrine in the following passage:
"Although the Court generally has resisted arguments for new exceptions to the warrant requirement, it has held that neither aerial surveillance nor police searches of privately owned open fields need be authorized by warrant. And it has steadily lengthened the list of situations in which police are permitted to search cars without first obtaining warrants." (p.181)
The problem with this passage is that it will not be clear to the reader that the Court distinguishes between claims that examine whether or not an area has been held out to the public and those where they recognize that there is an expectation of privacy, but the evidence yielded in a warrantless search may still be upheld (e.g. the difference between the open fields doctrine and the plain view exception to the warrant requirement). Although most texts recognize six exceptions where warrantless searches are reasonable and therefore still valid, Biskupic and Witt identify two: searches incident to a lawful arrest and automobile searches. Yet, readers will find many of the other exceptions scattered throughout this section--either as an inserted box or elsewhere. Like procedural due process, the discussion of substantive due process and privacy rights could be strengthened. Substantive process appears briefly in the chapter on criminal procedure and then re-appears in the last chapter on equality where the authors offer a very brief discussion of privacy rights.
THE SUPREME COURT AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS is a thorough and well-written account of leading Supreme Court decisions that deal with individual rights. In addition to their analyses, Biskupic and Witt include a glossary of legal terms, short biographical profiles of Supreme Court justices, and a brief guide to reading court citations. They also point readers to several on-line sources and additional references for further reading. Although it could be used as a text in an upper level undergraduate course, it would need to be accompanied by other works that provide additional insight on the Court. Scholars whose research and teaching interests focus on Supreme Court decisions in individual rights may not find anything new in this volume; however, for those in the profession who need a ready-reference for specific issues or wish to become more informed on Supreme Court doctrine, this work is a valuable resource.