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We the People, Volume 3: The Civil Rights Revolution

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$25.00 • £21.95 • €22.95

ISBN 9780674983946

Publication Date: 07/09/2018


432 pages

1 chart

Belknap Press

We the People


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The Civil Rights Act turns 50 this year, and a wave of fine books accompanies the semicentennial. Ackerman’s is the most ambitious; it is the third volume in an ongoing series on American constitutional history called We the People. A professor of law and political science at Yale, Ackerman likens the act to a constitutional amendment in its significance to the country’s legal development.—Michael O’Donnell, The Atlantic

Enlightening for all engaged citizens… Beyond meticulous and intricate analyses of legal texts, the book reveals little-known, often surprising information on members of various branches of government and the civil rights movement… While today’s challenges may cast doubt on the validity of America’s tradition of popular sovereignty, landmark statutes enacted as a result of the efforts of ‘We the People’ have resulted in the expansion of voting rights, institution of fair housing laws, desegregation of schools, repeal of racial miscegenation laws, enactment of gay rights protections, and more.—Kristine Morris, Foreword Reviews

Ackerman has written an exhaustive examination of the civil rights movement based on his assertion that a complex mix of Supreme Court decisions, political action in Congress, and constitutional questions led to the landmark changes of the 1960s. He argues that the prevailing notion that Supreme Court decisions of the era led to lasting change only tells some of the story…Ackerman weaves political theory with historical detail, explaining how the civil rights movement evolved from revolution to mass movement and then to statutory law…This fascinating book takes a new look at a much-covered topic.—Becky Kennedy, Library Journal

[Ackerman] is a proponent of the so-called living Constitution and propounds eloquently that the American voters continually made their case for a collective We the People legitimization of power during what he calls the Second Reconstruction and the civil rights era. The struggle among all three branches of government has always decided this legitimacy, whether it was the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant in championing the Reconstruction Amendments, Franklin Roosevelt’s court-packing to drive through his New Deal programs, or the Supreme Court’s decision in the Jim Crow–shattering Brown v. Board of Education. In the case of the civil rights era, it took Lyndon Johnson’s series of landmark statutes, passed through a liberal Congress, to institutionalize equality and amend the Constitution more powerfully than even the 24th Amendment (banning the poll tax) could. These statutes included the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965 and Fair Housing Act of 1968. Yet it was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the bloody Selma march of 1965 that tipped Johnson’s hand to bestow to American blacks ‘the full blessings of American life.’ The end of the dreaded poll tax and the unwavering support of President Richard Nixon for these same landmark statutes underscored the nation’s egalitarian commitment… This is an erudite and passionately argued work.Kirkus Reviews

It’s a broad, meticulous approach to the topic that looks at the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Second Reconstruction, and Brown v. Board of Education; and it celebrates how far Americans have come while working with what Ackerman suggests is an outmoded and flawed political system. He likewise condemns that Americans have become mired in the past, with pointed criticism of the current Roberts Court. Steeped in law and history, this is a complex, scholarly, and authoritative look at the volatile and pivotal era.Publishers Weekly

Bruce Ackerman has written a magnificent, closely textured, political history of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its aftermath. One is surely not surprised that Lyndon B. Johnson and Martin Luther King are often on center stage, but many might be surprised—and then illuminated—to discover the important role played by Richard M. Nixon as well in Ackerman’s often-riveting narrative.—Sanford Levinson, University of Texas School of Law

A splendid and brilliant book by the best and most sophisticated constitutional theorist in the United States, today, and possibly ever in American history. Professor Ackerman shows powerfully and irrefutably that there was a civil rights constitutional moment in the 1960s and that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 should be given the same weight by courts as an Article V constitutional amendment. This book is must reading for anyone interested in constitutional law or in civil rights.—Steven G. Calabresi, Northwestern University School of Law, co-founder of The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies

Bruce Ackerman has already transformed our understanding of the Constitution and constitutional interpretation. With this essential volume, he enables us to view the civil rights revolution in an entirely new way.—Laura Kalman, University of California, Santa Barbara

The American people have reconstructed their constitutional system from time to time, but these ‘constitutional moments’ never roll out exactly the same way. The Civil Rights Revolution, the third volume of the Ackerman synthesis, sorts through the differences among these transformations, bringing to light the common principles and processes that impart foundational status to their institutional and normative commitments. Today, with the legacy of the civil rights revolution in doubt, Ackerman’s benchmarks are invaluable, both for assessing the constitutional commitments established in those years and for evaluating the legitimacy of efforts to upend them.—Stephen Skowronek, Yale University

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