Making Our Democracy Work by Stephen Breyer
A Judge's View

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Synopsis

The Supreme Court is one of the most extraordinary institutions in our system of government. Charged with the responsibility of interpreting the Constitution, the nine unelected justices of the Court have the awesome power to strike down laws enacted by our elected representatives. Why does the public accept the Court’s decisions as legitimate and follow them, even when those decisions are highly unpopular? What must the Court do to maintain the public’s faith? How can the Court help make our democracy work? These are the questions that Justice Stephen Breyer tackles in this groundbreaking book.

Today we assume that when the Court rules, the public will obey. But Breyer declares that we cannot take the public’s confidence in the Court for granted. He reminds us that at various moments in our history, the Court’s decisions were disobeyed or ignored. And through investigations of past cases, concerning the Cherokee Indians, slavery, and Brown v. Board of Education, he brilliantly captures the steps—and the missteps—the Court took on the road to establishing its legitimacy as the guardian of the Constitution.

Justice Breyer discusses what the Court must do going forward to maintain that public confidence and argues for interpreting the Constitution in a way that works in practice. He forcefully rejects competing approaches that look exclusively to the Constitution’s text or to the eighteenth-century views of the framers. Instead, he advocates a pragmatic approach that applies unchanging constitutional values to ever-changing circumstances—an approach that will best demonstrate to the public that the Constitution continues to serve us well. The Court, he believes, must also respect the roles that other actors—such as the president, Congress, administrative agencies, and the states—play in our democracy, and he emphasizes the Court’s obligation to build cooperative relationships with them.

Finally, Justice Breyer examines the Court’s recent decisions concerning the detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, contrasting these decisions with rulings concerning the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. He uses these cases to show how the Court can promote workable government by respecting the roles of other constitutional actors without compromising constitutional principles.

Making Our Democracy Work
is a tour de force of history and philosophy, offering an original approach to interpreting the Constitution that judges, lawyers, and scholars will look to for many years to come. And it further establishes Justice Breyer as one of the Court’s greatest intellectuals and a leading legal voice of our time.


From the Hardcover edition.
 

About Stephen Breyer

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Stephen Breyer is an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court. He is a resident of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C.
 
Published September 14, 2010 by Vintage. 288 pages
Genres: Political & Social Sciences, Education & Reference, Law & Philosophy, Professional & Technical. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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The merits of any single case aside, the Court must also take into account a variety of legal doctrines, properly respect the expertise and prerogatives of the other governmental branches and avoid insult to state and inferior U.S. courts in our federal system, all in the service of forging decis...

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The New York Times

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It is surely too much to ask of a sitting justice, but one wishes Breyer would tell us just how far he thinks the Roberts court can go down its particular path before provoking a sustained political backlash like that of the 1930s — as opposed to scattered protests.

Sep 17 2010 | Read Full Review of Making Our Democracy Work: A ...

The New York Times

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“The Constitution’s most basic objective,” he writes, is “the creation of a single nation,” a goal it advances “by creating political institutions strong enough to permit the ‘people’ to govern themselves.” The court, Breyer says, echoing Holmes, Louis Brandeis, Felix Frankfurter and other apo...

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NPR

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In Making Our Democracy Work: A Judge's View, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer outlines his ideas about the Constitution and about the way the United States legal system works. Breyer explains how the justices debate each case on their docket, why he interprets the Constitution as a living do...

Sep 14 2010 | Read Full Review of Making Our Democracy Work: A ...

New York Journal of Books

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Although highly controversial, Gore and the public accepted the Court’s decision.The Court’s boundaries are set in the Constitution, and the Court is thus considered the ultimate arbiter.

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Los Angeles Times

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That's useful — undeniable in one sense — but Breyer's effort is to fashion a more harmonious government, one in which the court works in partnership with the president and Congress in part by engaging in a good-faith analysis of what those officials' "purpose" was in enacting a law or executing ...

Sep 22 2010 | Read Full Review of Making Our Democracy Work: A ...

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Action on roads: Finally, the governor is ready to make a decision King and Obama: Today's convergence highlights an uneasy contrast I don't appreciate gun 'appreciators' Revved up: U.S. automakers have a lot to show off this year Th...

Nov 28 2010 | Read Full Review of Making Our Democracy Work: A ...

The New Republic

Moreover, Breyer’s examples suggest that the Court is generally ineffective in sustaining constitutional interpretations that are intensely contested by the President and Congress: in the two cases where presidents or national majorities strongly rejected the Court’s interpretation—the Cherokee I...

Sep 28 2010 | Read Full Review of Making Our Democracy Work: A ...

Portland Book Review

Despite judgments deemed wrong today, the Court has become an essential resort for wide-ranging conflicts passed along by lower courts and torn apart by the media.

Jan 11 2012 | Read Full Review of Making Our Democracy Work: A ...

Harvard Political Review

Author of “Active Liberty” and the newly released “Making Our Democracy Work: A Judge’s View,” Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer begins the new term as the second most senior member of the liberal bloc after Justice Ginsburg.

Oct 10 2010 | Read Full Review of Making Our Democracy Work: A ...

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