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Law & Civil Liberties: Legal and Political Issues Today

Should you have a reasonable expectation of being free from government observation of your political activities? Is freedom of speech an absolute right, or are there legitimate reasons for restricting it? What role does the media play in promoting free speech and in informing the public? Should abortion be a right or a crime? These are a few of the issues addressed in the books reviewed here.
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  2. Book Reviews: Civil Libe...
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  4. Court Decisions (3)

We Have to Kill Liberty to Save Liberty
The phrase "We had to destroy the village to save it" has been attributed to many different people during the Vietnam War. It is used to express the utter senselessness and futility of the conflict: in pursuit of a desire to "save" Vietnam from communism, American troops were acting to destroy it piece by piece. A very similar observation can be made about the current War on Terror.

Fear in the Workplace: Double-Standards for Business Leaders
Fear is a popular means used by those with power to better control those without power. All that is necessary is to give people a little something and ensure that it become important to them, then create the belief that they could lose what they have. When people have limited options for retaining what little they have, their actions are more predictable and controllable.

Silence as a Weapon of Totalitarian States
The suggestion - or worse, the order - to maintain silence about something is frequently used by totalitarian and authoritarian states as a means for preserving power. Knowledge is power, as the saying goes, so the less information people have the tighter the grip the state can have on them. Secrecy and silence should thus be viewed with great suspicion by any people who wish to remain free.

Secret Prisons & 'Alternative' Interrogation: Bush's Christian War
Bush is the most overtly 'Christian' president America has had in a long time. He leads the most overtly 'Christian' political party on the scene and they both pursue overtly Christian agendas, policies, and values. What are the fruits of America's ongoing experiment with Christian government?

Minimal Invasion: How Far Should the Government Go?
There are significant debates over how society should balance individual liberties against the scope of government power and authority. The more authority the government has over our lives, the less scope our liberties can have; the more liberties we have, the less authority the government is permitted. This is especially important when it comes to matters of life and death.

Lethal Injection: Easier for the Condemned or for the Executioners?
Many states across America now use lethal injection as the preferred or only method of execution. It is argued by defenders of the practice that lethal injection is more humane than electrocution, the gas chamber, and other historic alternatives. This is doubtful, however, and it may be the case that it's simply more humane for the executioners, making it easier for them to kill.

Criminal Punishment and Execution as Public Theater
Why do we punish criminals? One reason is to prevent more crime. Another is to exact retribution form the criminal. An overlooked reason, though, may be to send a message to the community.

Alexis de Tocqueville and American Democracy
Alexis de Tocqueville is best known for his praise of American democracy and society; less well known, however, are later criticisms he made of both. Apparently he grew disillusioned of America in ways that echo down through today.

Secret Court Rulings: Advancing the End of Democracy
Do we really live in a free, liberal democracy when the courts can issue secret rulings based upon secret evidence which only the judge and prosecution can see %u2014 rulings and evidence which defense counsel are denied all access to? This isn't compatible with constitutional protections of a fair trial, and if they can be so easily ignored the rest of our rights don't seem to matter much.

Populism and Democracy
Populism is defined as a concern with the rights of the common people; democracy is a political system in which the people rule. So, populism and democracy should go well together, right? Perhaps not - perhaps the two can actually conflict, which raises interesting questions for American politics.

Privacy & Personal Data: Who Owns Your Information?
Information has great value, which explains why private corporations are so anxious to learn all they can about actual and potential customers. They want to sell you something and they want to do it with as little overhead as possible; knowing what you do want, rather than what you might want, helps. How can this be balanced against your interest in keeping data about yourself private?

Privacy in Public: How Do You Act When You're Being Watched?
Everyone has times when they are alone or with close confidants and aren't being watched, listened to, or otherwise monitored by authority figures. Do you act differently? Do you say or express ideas you wouldn't in a more public or monitored setting? Probably - and the loss of truly private time with yourself or others is one of the problems with all electronic monitoring.

Privacy vs. Secrecy: Should We be More Open, Not Less?
Most people are afraid of having very personal information being released to the government - they want private data about things like what they buy and read to remain private. Instead of stricter privacy standards, though, should we perhaps have looser ones? Should people just be more open and honest about what they do rather than secretive?

What is Privacy?
Just about everyone cares about privacy - even conservatives who deny that there is any sort of 'right to privacy' don't want their medical records or other personal information made public. Privacy matters more and more because the damage which information can do increases as the value of information increases. But just what is privacy, anyway?

Who's Responsible for Oppression?
Oppression is, unfortunately, a common aspect of human life. All through history and all around the world, people struggle against oppression by others. Who is responsible for all this oppression, however? The oppressors obviously bear most of the responsibility, but it's possible to give them so much responsibility that one actually ends up supporting their oppression.

Judge Issues Secret Ruling Using Secret Evidence
In America, today, President Bush can order secret wiretapping and surveillance performed on you. Secret evidence can then be used to get judges to issue secret rulings that even your defense attorney is not allowed to read - assuming, of course, that you ever see a judge. You could be declared and enemy combatant and held in military detention indefinitely.

Hate Crimes: Do they Punish Unpopular Speech, Thoughts?
Many people believe and argue that so-called 'hate crimes' are really just attempts to criminalize unpopular ideas and speech. The label certainly gives that impression because it seems to make certain types of 'hate' into a 'crime,' but if we look at the actual implementation of hate crime legislation - to increase penalties for violent crimes - this perception does not hold up.

Why Protecting Privacy is Difficult
Most people are concerned with their privacy, at least when it comes to their own privacy - but just what is privacy? That's a difficult question to answer, in part because the question of privacy is so complicated and filled with so many contradictions. For how example, how to you retain easy access to your own data while making it difficult for others to access it?

How Mindful are Supreme Court Justices of Politics?
A common piece of evidence cited for the idea that Supreme Court justices are politically oriented is how quickly the justices started switching their votes when President Roosevelt started threatening to force them to retire or add more justice who would vote the way he wanted. Evidence suggests, however, the Supreme Court votes evolved gradually rather than switching suddenly.

Different Standards for Left-Wing and Right-Wing Radicals
The job of a judge is inherently political; people who forget this do so at their own peril. At the same time, though, this doesn't mean that judges should be closely aligned with the politics of their day. Judges must remain as independent as possible from these political winds because genuine justice demands it.

Freedom and Liberty in Democracy
What does it mean to be 'free' in a liberal democracy? At the very least, it must mean that people are able to form opinions and pursue goals relating to the direction of their life with a minimum of interference from the state. If people are prevented from developing their own ideas about what constitutes a good and moral life, they simply become tools of the state.

Law & Order vs. Prison Administration
Prisons are a central feature of the modern justice system, but decisions made on behalf of improving law & order aren't necessarily beneficial for the smooth and efficient running of prisons. One interesting example of this is how increased arrests and longer prison sentences can create overcrowding in prisons - overcrowding which may make all aspects of prison life more difficult.

Sham of Constitutional Originalism
Many conservatives promote a judicial philosophy called "originalism," according to which the Constitution must be interpreted according to how its words and ideas were "originally" understood. Some think that this is an objective perspective that rises above personal and political beliefs today.

Confining Criminals After Their Sentence Has Been Served
If a person is convicted of a serious crime, they normally serve time in prison. Once that time is served, they should be set free - right? What's the point of having a defined prison sentence if a person is not allowed to return to society afterwards? Unfortunately, there are some who seem to want exactly that: indefinite detention without a criminal trial.

Should the Senate Rubber-Stamp Presidential Appointments?
There are many who think that the Senate should be inclined to confirm anyone nominated by the President unless there are exceptional circumstances. Nominees for posts in the Executive Branch should be approved so that the President can have his own team. Judicial nominees should be approved because the public expressed their approval by electing the President. Is this reasoning sound?

Litmus Tests for Judicial Nominees
Everyone decries the use of litmus tests for judicial nominees - but only the litmus tests used by others. Everyone has their own litmus tests - some are better and some are worse. An intelligent debate over the status of such tests cannot proceed unless we are clear on what sorts of "tests" are preferable and why.

The Federalist Society
For the Bush administration, judicial nominees seem to have to pass muster first with the Federalist Society. In fact, it seems that only Federalist Society members have a chance of being advanced through the judiciary. What is this group all about?

Far-Right Attacks on Prisons Being Soft on Criminals
Contemporary American conservatism has long made the idea of 'law and order' an important political slogan. Conservatives attack the prison system for being too lenient, for emphasizing treatment over punishment, for pampering prisoners, and for being too sentimental. There is a precedence for such arguments, but it's not a very pleasant one.

Terror in the Name of Law & Order (Book Notes: Hitler's Prisons)
When people think of totalitarian regimes like Nazi Germany, they imagine societies where everyone lives in fear of the secret police and government action. The truth, however, is both more mundane and more disturbing: the Nazi state only acted against the undesirables in society, with most people openly supportive of the actions.

What is a Civil Libertarian?
Civil liberties are very important in American society and politics, but despite this not everyone appears to understand just what a commitment to civil liberties entails. Defending civil liberties requires defending them for all people, equally, even if those people would promote ideas which are anathema to us.

Short Biography of William Rehnquist, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
William Rehnquist is one of the most conservative justices to sit on the Supreme Court in a long time. Even while still a law clerk for Justice Robert H. Jackson, he wrote a memorandum supporting the principle of legal racial segregation and supporting the separate but equal doctrine espoused in Plessy v. Ferguson.

Reading the Constitution
How do we interpret the Constitution? Answering this question isn't easy - indeed, there is a heated debate about it all of the time. This is not just an esoteric or academic debate, especially for atheists concerned about religious freedom. How we interpret the document that is supposed to guarantee our liberties will decide just what those liberties are and how far the extend.

Glossary of Political and Legal Philosophy
Glossary of terms, concepts, and people important to political and legal philosophy.

Books on Civil Liberties
Should you have a reasonable expectation of being free from government observation of your political activities? Is freedom of speech an absolute right, or are there legitimate reasons for restricting it? What role does the media play in promoting free speech and in informing the public? Should abortion be a right or a crime? These are a few of the issues addressed in the books reviewed here.

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