It’s hard to imagine why I would give a civics book a five star review. It’s not a “book” at all, just a series of excerpts of some of the most famous of Supreme Court cases. I’ve never been interested in politics until recently (I think 2015-16 probably activated a lot of people). Yet I’ve always been drawn to Supreme Court cases. Though some may disagree, I’ve always appreciated that justices are lifetime appointments. Removing the fundraising-campaign-reelection infrastructure, I believe frees up these individuals to focus on their jobs without fear of consequences. That gives them the ability to make bold rulings that withstand the test of time more than congressional acts or presidential rulings, which in hindsight seem many times like shortsighted pandering.
I love that SC decisions blend logic, morality, law, technology, and philosophy. It’s an extremely cerebral book, in that you will be forced to think about an issue in a new way, regardless of your personal belief. The first tough lesson to learn is thinking of the SC as the living embodiment of the constitution, as written, not a group of nine superthinkers dispensing morality for the masses. This particular tension came to light, for example, when John Roberts upheld the ACA as a constitutionally sanctioned tax, while condemning the act itself. The book is filled with examples of this. It is tempting to read the paragraph summary of each case and make a personal judgment before diving in to the decision’s text. This is very difficult to do. Each decision (along with the many dissents included) is carefully crafted from a unique perspective, and if you want more than a laundry list of seminal decisions, then you must tune yourself to appreciating that perspective for the moment.
Having said all that, it’s refreshing to finally have some content understanding (rather than headline understanding) of such famous cases as Marbury v. Madison, Plessy v. Ferguson, and Citizens United. I may be late to the table with my civic education, but I know there are millions out there who yearn for the who-what-why explanations of why their country is the way it is. To that yearning, I will always prefer to go to the source itself to avoid the coloration of another’s telling.