IN OUR DEFENSE, The Bill of Rights in Action, by Ellen Alderman and Caroline Kennedy. ISBN 0-380-71720-4
In the September Bugle, I reviewed THE RIGHT TO PRIVACY, by these same authors. This is an earlier book, first published in 1991. It has stood the test of time and has been reprinted in 2003. Kennedy (yes, JFK's daughter) and Alderman, in 339 tightly composed pages, explain the Bill of Rights (the first ten constitutional amendments) by analyzing legal battles that involve each one. One of the ten (the third) has hardly been called upon; others (particularly the first, fourth and fifth) have been tested again and again. Although written fifteen years ago, the book retains freshness and applicability even today.
Among questions decided by the courts are: Is the Klu Klux Klan entitled to a spot on a public TV channel? (Maybe). Can the government classify your article “secret,” even though it was done on your own time using publically available sources? (Yes). What are the limits to FBI investigative activities? Can a town ban all guns from its residents? Can a town edict that all its residents own a gun? Are there limits on governmental “takings” (property forcibly confiscated for public use)? What are the powers retained by the people (ninth amendment)? The State (tenth amendment)? What if your child is missing and the authorities suspect foul play? Can you be compelled (fifth amendment) to tell them where he is? Can you be convicted in a court of law without being given the opportunity to confront your accusers? To all of these, the answers are neither obvious nor easily arrived at. Some of the results may surprise you.
The book is easy but provocative reading; each chapter addresses one amendment; chapters average 34 pages, just long enough for an evening's reading and meditation on what makes this country great. Highly recommended.