American Constitutional Law: Introductory Essays & Selected Cases

By Alpheus Thomas Mason; William M. Beaney | Go to book overview

PREFACE

THIS BOOK, a result of many years of teaching courses in Constitutional Interpretation, is meant to be sufficiently comprehensive for use in liberal arts courses as well as in law school. Introductory essays provide historical background, set the stage for the cases, and trace the thread of constitutional doctrine.

It is our design to show how Supreme Court decisions reflect social and political conflicts outside the judicial forum, and to show the judiciary as an instrument of power rather than as an exalted oracle of revealed truth. A number of significant concurring and dissenting opinions are included to indicate the latitude of choice open to the Justices, and thus to underscore the discretionary nature of the power they wield. In case after case the reader will observe the Court translating into judicial idiom whatever result a majority of the Justices, at any particular time, consider to be in the best interest of the country. Depending on its personnel and on the pressure of circumstances, the Court may appear as a vehicle of the nation's life, adapting our basic law to the various crises in human affairs -- or as a veritable strait jacket, defeating the efforts of politically responsible government to do its job.

The selections are, in most instances, those that would appear on any teacher's list of great cases. If an old favorite has been left out, considerations of space alone may be the reason. The same cause explains the omission of subject matter of high importance: judicial review of administrative actions, for example, is represented by only a few cases; and it has proved impossible to treat the highly significant but technically difficult subject of statutory interpretation as a separate topic. Interstate relations, the postal power, and other less important powers of Congress have been purposely ignored.

It is our feeling that the cases included are important, not only because the issues involved are weighty, but also because the Justices discuss these issues in terms of enduring principles of government. We have tried to emphasize the evolution of constitutional doctrine, in the belief that excessive preoccupation with contemporary issues may obscure, rather than reveal, the true stature of the Court as a vital instrument of government.

Many persons have cooperated in bringing this work to completion. The late Charles W. Gerstenberg's pioneering book, combining text and leading cases, served as a model as well as a source of relevant material.

-vii-

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