Bruce AckermanWe the People: Volume 3: The Civil Rights Revolution

Harvard University Press, 2014

by Siobhan Mukerji on August 2, 2014

Bruce Ackerman

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[Cross-posted from New Books in LawBruce Ackerman is the Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University. His book, We the People, Volume 3: The Civil Rights Revolution (Harvard UP, 2013) fills out the constitutional history of America’s “Second Reconstruction” period and makes a powerful argument that traditional understandings of the constitutional canon must be expanded to accurately reflect the American lawmaking process.

The official constitutional canon is composed of the 1787 Constitution and the formal amendments to this document. However, Ackerman argues that the Supreme Court should give more deference to an operational canon that includes the landmark statutes, which are the legacy of the civil rights revolution. Ackerman reveals that the leaders of the civil rights movement actively avoided altering the Constitution through an Article V amendment because this method had failed during the first Reconstruction period. Instead, he lays out how they relied on constitution-altering techniques established during the New Deal. The champions of the civil rights movement following these New Deal methods emerged victorious from robust constitutional debates in all three branches. These successes reveal the American people’s broad support for a change to the constitutional status quo, a level of consent much greater than that behind the Reconstruction that produced three Article V amendments and Ackerman asserts even greater than the support underpinning the American Revolution.

Ackerman’s position as a scholar of both law and political science allows him to avoid interpretative pitfalls common to each respective discipline and to use his greater breadth of knowledge to present a wide picture of the civil rights era’s political history. His interdisciplinary interpretation argues for an even greater respect for Brown v. Board of Education’s importance in the movement while simultaneously arguing that lawyers must move away from a court-centric view of the period to be faithful to the collective voice of We the People.

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