Randy Barnett is a libertarian-leaning law professor at Georgetown. You may have come across his previous books, Restoring the Lost Constitution (2004) and Our Republican Constitution (2016). He’s joined up with Josh Blackman (South Texas College of Law) for a new book: An Introduction to Constitutional Law: 100 Supreme Court Cases Everyone Should Know.
As a reasonably well-informed American, but by no means a legal scholar, I started with an image in my mind, a mental model of sorts, for how the Constitution worked. We have a government of limited, enumerated powers, with a 10th Amendment that reserved other powers to the states and the people, etc. I knew that there have been some perturbations from that ideal, during wartime and during the Great Depression, but I had taken the ideal as the accepted norm, one that we’d (eventually) swing around to again.
Barnett and Blackman have disabused me of that notion. What is particularly impressive is they did so without pushing an overt point of view in the book. They pretty much lay out of the facts of the case, quote from the court’s opinions, but offer none of their own. But in the way they have ordered and connected the cases, and from pondering the questions directed to the reader in the “Study Guide” sections, the contradictions and deviations in contemporary constitutional interpretation are made vivid and blatant.
(Of course, it is possible that other readers, with a different ideological bent, would come to a different conclusion, and read this as an illustration of how progressive jurists remedied a flawed original constitution by nullifying economic rights of the individual and bringing greater equality by enlarging the scope of federal regulatory powers.)
The book gives its deepest focus to the evolution of due process and equal protection, but it also gives a good level of coverage to the 1st Amendment and to the (de)evolution of private contract and property rights.
Purchasers of the book are also given access to an online supplement of short videos corresponding to each of the 63 chapters. These videos pretty much repeat the material of the chapter, and are accompanied by photographs illustrating the parties and controversies involved. These photographs had been collected by Blackman over the years and were originally intended for a coffee-table book.
This is an easy read, one that requires no previous legal training. If you are seeking a single volume introduction to the Constitution, warts and all, this is a good place to start.
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