Anthony Lewis, a former columnist for The New York Times, has twice won the Pulitzer Prize. His latest book is Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment.

The Shame of America

Randall Kennedy is a professor at Harvard Law School, widely regarded as one of the most perceptive and eloquent commentators on racial matters. His two siblings are also lawyers, one of them a federal judge. All three graduated from Princeton; Randall was a Rhodes Scholar. Their father, Henry Kennedy Sr., …

The Most Skillful Liberal

Justice William J. Brennan in his Supreme Court chambers, Washington, D.C., 1986
In 1946, in the case of Colegrove v. Green, the Supreme Court rejected an attempt to get the federal courts to address the festering problem of political districts grossly unequal in population. At the time, for example, Connecticut was districted so that the 177,000 citizens of Hartford elected two members …

How the Supreme Court Should and Should Not Work

Stephen Breyer shortly after his nomination to the Supreme Court, May 16, 1994
The case for judicial review—the role of courts in enforcing constitutional limits on government power—was memorably made in a 1998 lecture by Aharon Barak, then the president of the Supreme Court of Israel. Before World War II, Justice Barak said, democracies outside of the United States relied for the protection …

A Supreme Difference

Antonin Scalia remains the most interesting of the Supreme Court’s conservatives, the most provocative. He does not hesitate to be sarcastic, even contemptuous, about his colleagues when he disagrees with them.

An Unfettered Mind: Justice Stevens

In the celebration of Justice John Paul Stevens as he brings his long career on the Supreme Court to an end, it is worth remembering what might seem to be an untypical moment in that career: the flag-burning case of 1989. Gregory Lee Johnson was convicted in Texas of “desecrating a venerated object,” the flag. When the case went to the Supreme Court, the radical lawyer William Kunstler argued that Johnson’s act was protected by the First Amendment as a form of free expression. Justice Stevens asked Kunstler whether the Government had “any power at all to regulate how this flag is displayed in public places.” Kunstler said he didn’t believe so. “There is no state interest whatsoever?” Justice Stevens asked. Kunstler answered that he saw none. “I feel quite differently,” Justice Stevens said.

A Hero of American Justice

Louis Brandeis, Washington, D.C., 1930s
I met Justice Brandeis once, when I was about thirteen years old. His grandson was in my class at school, and I was invited to stay with his family at their summer house in Chatham, on Cape Cod. One day my classmate’s mother said, “We are going to visit the …

Google & the Future of Books: An Exchange

To the Editors: In his recent article criticizing the Google settlement [“Google and the New Digital Future,” NYR, December 17, 2009], Robert Darnton fails to acknowledge the significant role that libraries have had in the creation of Google Book Search as well as the concrete steps they are taking to …

Go Directly to Jail

'My dear Sir, it is quite impossible for me to take on your case. You lack the most important piece of evidence...that you can pay me fee!'; lithograph by Honoré Daumier, 1846
In our adversary system of criminal justice, any person haled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him. —Justice Hugo L. Black, writing for the Supreme Court in Gideon v. Wainwright, 1963 The court’s decision in …

Justice Holmes and the ‘Splendid Prisoner’

Eugene Debs just after his release from the Atlanta penitentiary, December 25, 1921
Eugene Debs is a largely forgotten man today, an odd footnote in American history of the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But this fascinating book about his climactic last years makes clear that he really mattered. In both political and legal ways he played a significant part in …

Shall We Get Rid of the Lawyers?

‘Yes, they would plunder this orphan...’; lithograph by Honoré Daumier from his series <i>Lawyers and Justice</i>, 1845
Justice Hugo L. Black once told me that he thought all government departments and agencies should be abolished every five or ten years. Black was a senator from Alabama for ten years and a Supreme Court justice for thirty-four, and he knew just about everything there was to know about …

Official American Sadism

Since the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was exposed, in April 2004, the Bush administration has maintained that any mistreatment was the work of a few “bad apples.” No action has been taken against any higher-up, military or civilian. But a steady accumulation of disclosures, capped in June by a Senate committee report and hearing, has made it clear that abusive treatment of prisoners was a deliberate policy that came from the top—the Pentagon, the Justice Department, and the White House.

The Terror President

In these last weeks of turbulent events, the single most significant has not been the financial crisis, not the fall of a governor, not the passing of the fifth year of the war without end in Iraq. It has been an American president’s formal blessing of the use of torture.

Demagogue Without a Cause

Americans under the age of sixty-five are unlikely to have any real idea of what it was like in this country during the reign of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. The movie Good Night, and Good Luck, about Edward R. Murrow’s stand against McCarthy in CBS television programs, has recently given …

Woman in the Middle

“Never in its entire history can the Supreme Court be said to have for a single hour been representative of anything except the relatively conservative forces of its day.” So wrote Robert H. Jackson in The Struggle for Judicial Supremacy, a book written, as he put it, “in odd intervals …

Privilege & the Press

“We are under a Constitution, but the Constitution is what the judges say it is….” —Charles Evans Hughes, 1907 Nowadays that statement might be cited by right-wing critics of the courts as a shocking illustration of “judicial activism.” Chief Justice Hughes, as he later became, made it as a statement …

More Than Fit to Print

It was June 13, 1971, when The New York Times began publishing long articles on, and excerpts from, what came to be known as the Pentagon Papers: a secret history of the Vietnam War, prepared in the Pentagon. The uproar occasioned by the publication is dim and distant now; even …

The Election and America’s Future

For what has been called “the most consequential election in decades,” we have asked some of our contributors for their views.—The Editors   K. ANTHONY APPIAH Princeton, New Jersey If there’s one thing that supporters of the current administration insist upon, it’s that George W. Bush “is a …

Making Torture Legal

For me, the twisting of the law by lawyers is especially troubling. I have spent my life believing that the safety of this difficult, diverse country lies to a significant extent in the good faith of lawyers—in their commitment to respect the rules. But the Bush lawyers have been brazen in their readiness to twist, dissemble, and invent in the cause of power.

Bush and the Lesser Evil

Suppression of civil liberty in the name of national security is an old story in the United States. It has happened repeatedly in times of war or fear since the early days of the republic. In 1798, just seven years after the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution, …

Un-American Activities

The Times of London last May published a letter to the editor from Tony Willoughby of Willoughby & Partners, a firm of solicitors. “The head of IT [information technology] at our law firm,” he wrote, is a Muslim. He is a gentleman in every sense of the word. His fanaticism, …

On the West Wing

To an extent that we could not at first imagine, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, have transformed the politics and the policy of the United States. A president of dubious legitimacy, put in office by ballot confusion in Florida and a lawless majority of the Supreme Court, has …

Bush and Iraq

What is President Bush’s ultimate objective in Iraq? Is it to make sure that Saddam Hussein does not have weapons of mass destruction? Or is it to remove Saddam by force and remake the politics of Iraq? And if the latter, would it be the first step toward a new …

Is There a Solution?

In the days after the 1967 war, when Israel was celebrating its great victory, an Israeli I know warned that triumph could lead to disaster. Capture of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, he said, would tempt Israel to settle those territories. That would mean colonialism, with …