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Active Liberty: Interpreting Our Democratic Constitution

Active Liberty: Interpreting Our Democratic Constitution
Author: Stephen Breyer
ISBN 13: 9780307274946
ISBN 10: 307274942
Edition: 9.10.2006
Publisher: Vintage
Publication Date: 2006-10-10
Format: Paperback
Pages: 176
List Price: $15.00

A brilliant new approach to the Constitution and courts of the United States by Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

For Justice Breyer, the Constitution’s primary role is to preserve and encourage what he calls “active liberty”: citizen participation in shaping government and its laws. As this book argues, promoting active liberty requires judicial modesty and deference to Congress; it also means recognizing the changing needs and demands of the populace. Indeed, the Constitution’s lasting brilliance is that its principles may be adapted to cope with unanticipated situations, and Breyer makes a powerful case against treating it as a static guide intended for a world that is dead and gone. Using contemporary examples from federalism to privacy to affirmative action, this is a vital contribution to the ongoing debate over the role and power of our courts.


We live in an era when conservatives have gotten the most recent appointments to the Supreme Court, and when the most prominent public speakers and leaders within that court have generally espoused a judicial philosophy of deferring to the executive branch and some version of original intent in deciding cases. Justice Stephen Breyer's book presents an alternative vision of Constitutional interpretation. While favoring judicial modesty, Justice Breyer refuses to see the Constitution as a static guide to an ever-changing world. He first discusses his big themes and then "specific applications." His organizational structure makes it easy for students to get 10—12 idea-packed pages on such key topics as speech, federalism, privacy and affirmative action. The book is sophisticated in language but clearly written. Its size and structure make it a useful book for students trying to understand the current judicial scene and its historical context.