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Fight of the Century: Writers Reflect on 100 Years of Landmark ACLU Cases
por Ayelet Waldman (Editor), Michael Chabon (Editor)
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Excellent essays on important subjects. ( )
In their introduction, editors Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman write, “To understand the vital role that the ACLU plays in American society requires a nuanced understanding of the absolute value of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom from unwanted search and seizure, of the right to due process and equal justice under the law, even – again, especially – when those rights protect people we find abhorrent or speech that offends us” (pg. xv). The book itself covers forty different cases presented in chronological order, from Stromberg v. California (1931) through ACLU v. United States Department of Defense, et al. (2018). Some authors, like Jacqueline Woodson on Powell v. Alabama (1932) and Patterson v. Alabama (1935) or Neil Gaiman on Reno v. ACLU (1997) and Ashcroft v. ACLU (2004), examine similar cases to show how rulings changed, were refined, or upheld. What emerges is a careful study of jurisprudence in defense of civil liberties over the last century. Fight of the Century is a necessary primer for anyone studying civil liberties.
Co-editor Michael Chabon writes the entry on United States v. One Book Called ‘Ulysses’, giving the background, “Over the previous sixty years the Supreme Court had consistently upheld the constitutionality of the federal Comstock Act, which banned obscene speech. The New York State antipornography laws were broad, loose, and vaguely worded. And the standard used to determine whether speech was obscene, the Hicklin test, appeared to be invincible” (pg. 17). Chabon explains that the danger of the Hicklin test was that “it could be applied piecemeal. The government had only to prove the obscenity of part of a book in order to ban it entirely. There was no obligation to consider context or the interpretations of a work as a whole” (pg. 17). Under Judge Woolsey’s ruling, however, “By definition, a work of literature could not be obscene, could not be pornographic, could not corrupt and deprave, could never be intended to arouse a reader, even if certain passages in said work dealt with sexual activity and bodily functions in plain, even vulgar terms” (pg. 23). Later, the editors summarize Hannegan v. Esquire (1946), in which the Supreme Court ruled that the postmaster general could not “serve as the arbiter of obscenity” such as when he attempted to revoke Esquire’s second-class postage status due to his objection to some images he felt were obscene (pg. 40).
Neil Gaiman discusses the role of telecommunications technology on censorship laws, specifically focusing on Reno v. ACLU (1997) and Ashcroft v. ACLU (2004). He writes of the background to the former, “Title V of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, better known as the Communications Decency Act (CDA). It was signed into law by President Clinton in 1996 and attempted to target indecency and obscenity on the Internet by making it a crime punishable by two years in jail, a $250,000 fine, or both, to engage in speech that was ‘indecent’ or ‘patently offensive,’ if that speech could be viewed by a minor” (pg. 200). While the Court struck down the law 7-2, Congress passed the Child Online Protection Act in 1998 to replace it. This had its own problems, including the fact that its use of the word “simulated” provided too much grounds for debate as did its reliance on the generalized “community standards” (pg. 201). Gaiman discusses how the Court decided Ashcroft v. ACLU partly due to its overreach and faulty understanding of technology, but also writes, “The decisions in both Reno and Ashcroft make explicit reference to the rights of adults, the former in part decided on the grounds that the CDA was an abridgement of the First Amendment because it didn’t allow parents to decide what material was acceptable for their children” (pg. 203). Gaiman concludes with a plea to understand that part of a parent’s responsibility is to protect their children, but it is also to help them grow rather than by restricting their access to material that will help them to do so.
Due to my current research, the essays most of interest to me were those related to censorship and obscenity case law, but the others offered valuable insight into ACLU’s activism. In many ways, Chabon and Waldman’s work recalls Peter Irons’ A People’s History of the Supreme Court and, like that work, is a necessary guide to American jurisprudence and civil liberties. An essential read for all studying the social sciences.
This is a book I'll be coming back to again and again, both for my own reading and for use in courses I teach. It covers a huge range of civil rights cases, presenting them clearly and offering succinct, engaging reflections on them. This is the kind of writing, involving both research and personal reflection, that I encourage my students to do. If things go as I plan, I will use this as a class text for the first time next winter.
To mark its 100-year anniversary, the American Civil Liberties Union partners with award-winning authors Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman to bring together many of our greatest living writers, each contributing an original piece inspired by a historic ACLU case. On January 19, 1920, a small group of idealists and visionaries, including Helen Keller, Jane Addams, Roger Baldwin, and Crystal Eastman, founded the American Civil Liberties Union. A century after its creation, the ACLU remains the nation's premier defender of the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. In collaboration with the ACLU, authors Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman have curated an anthology of essays about landmark cases in the organization's one-hundred-year history. Fight of the Century takes you inside the trials and the stories that have shaped modern life. Some of the most prominent cases that the ACLU has been involved in--Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade, Miranda v. Arizona--need little introduction. Others you may never even have heard of, yet their outcomes quietly defined the world we live in now. Familiar or little-known, each case springs to vivid life in the hands of the acclaimed writers who dive into the history, narrate their personal experiences, and debate the questions at the heart of each issue. Hector Tobar introduces us to Ernesto Miranda, the felon whose wrongful conviction inspired the now-iconic Miranda rights--which the police would later read to the man suspected of killing him. Yaa Gyasi confronts the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education, in which the ACLU submitted a friend of- the-court brief questioning why a nation that has sent men to the moon still has public schools so unequal that they may as well be on different planets. True to the ACLU's spirit of principled dissent, Scott Turow offers a blistering critique of the ACLU's stance on campaign finance. These powerful stories, along with essays from Neil Gaiman, Meg Wolitzer, Salman Rushdie, Ann Patchett, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Louise Erdrich, George Saunders, and many more, remind us that the issues the ACLU has engaged over the past one hundred years remain as vital as ever today, and that we can never take our liberties for granted. Chabon and Waldman are donating their advance to the ACLU and the contributors are forgoing payment. "To mark its 100-year anniversary, the American Civil Liberties Union asked authors to contribute an original piece inspired by a historic ACLU case. Since its founding on January 19, 1920, the ACLU remains the nation's premier defender of the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. This collection takes readers inside the trials and the stories that have shaped modern life. Some are the most prominent cases that the ACLU has been involved in; others you may never even have heard of, yet their outcomes quietly defined the world we live in now"--Adapted from the book jacket.
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Sistema Decimal Melvil (DDC)323.06073 — Social sciences Political Science Civil and political rights Civil Rights Societies
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