Vol. 14 No. 1 (January 2004)

JUDICIAL PROCESS: LAW, COURTS, AND POLITICS IN THE UNITED STATES (3rd ed.), by David W. Neubauer and Stephen S. Meinhold.  Belmont, California: Thomson-Wadsworth, 2004.  580 pp.  Paper $68.95.  ISBN: 0-15-505839-8.  Includes Infotrac College Edition.

Reviewed by Rosalie R. Young, Public Justice Department, State University of New York at Oswego.  Email: ryoung@oswego.edu .

JUDICIAL PROCESS is a clearly written text that provides well-documented descriptions of formal court structures and practices, as well as the history and politics that explain the current status of American courts.  The book's organization facilitates the reader's understanding of theory and practice of the American legal system.   

The authors have drawn on both traditional and newly developed tools to engage their readers.  An introduction and conclusion at the beginning and end of each chapter effectively set the stage or prompt further thought about the material in that chapter. The detailed table of contents and index make it easy for the reader to refer to issues previously covered in the text.  Terms defined in the glossary are printed in bold font to prompt students to turn to that section when they are uncertain of a definition.  Additionally, special sections within each chapter focus on "law in action" and stimulate critical thinking and student discussion.

"Case Close-Ups," such as the FURMAN v. GEORGIA (1972) and the infamous hot coffee case, LIEBECK v. MCDONALD'S CORPORATION (1995), apply the points made in the chapters into which they are incorporated.  These case summaries briefly describe the legal issue, relevant controversies, characteristics of case participants, political aspects of the case, the decision, and its consequences.  The summaries draw upon state and federal cases to establish the importance of federalism in our courts.   The commentary on the pages surrounding the close-ups adds to the reader's understanding of the case, while the close-ups further clarify the reader's comprehension of the more theoretical material.

Each chapter includes a section describing current legal controversies, such as who should bear responsibility for tobacco related illnesses or who sets the rules, Congress or the courts.  These controversies exhibit the diverse nature of criminal and civil issues facing the courts and the variety of remedies that litigants desire. Each chapter also contains a section on "Law and Popular Culture" which draws on a relatively recent movie or a classic film, such as A CIVIL ACTION (1998) or 12 ANGRY MEN (1957).  While most instructors do not have the time to show these movies in class, they provide an opportunity for optional extra credit.

The authors have also included interesting "Critical Thinking Questions," World Wide Web resources, and a variety of useful URLs at the end of each chapter.  While students may skip the questions unless required to consider them, the Internet issues, sites, and exercises should draw in the many students who are fascinated by web resources.  In addition to the specific knowledge gained, using these materials provides students with the opportunity to learn how to effectively evaluate web sites for themselves. The on-line resources and references at the conclusion of each chapter provide a viable starting point for student research projects.

The sections on "Courts in Comparative Perspective" offered in each chapter are worthy of note.  The authors draw on brief descriptions of the judicial systems in such diverse nations as Nigeria, Canada, and Russia to introduce students to the variety of legal systems in place throughout the world.  I find the integration of these one-page descriptions to be far more useful than comparative chapters which are frequently ignored by ethnocentric students.

JUDICIAL POLITICS has 15 chapters divided into five major sections.  Chapter titles do not do justice to the breadth of the material offered, such as the discussion of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and the controversy over punitive damages provided in Chapter 10 which discusses "The Preliminary States of Civil Cases."

The authors pack a great deal into their 580 pages, but they assume some basic knowledge on the part of the student.  I would recommend that this book be used for upper division judicial process courses. While the authors imply that their text would be useful for an introductory course on the American legal system, students should have previously taken a preliminary course in American government or criminal justice.   Even then, the instructor may need to offer explanations for their students who never learned or do not remember the basics.

Faculty must also supplement the text when further detail is necessary.  For example, in their discussion of parole the authors carefully point to the diversity of state programs, but fail to mention that parole was eliminated in 1986 for newly sentenced federal prisoners through the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984.  And, in their brief, but comprehensive explanation of the way that counsel is provided for indigent criminal defendants, the authors discuss assigned counsel programs and public defenders, but fail to mention that counsel may be provided through a contract system by a firm or agency. 

While Neubauer and Meinhold have updated this text in their third edition, additional current sources of reference would be welcome.  The authors often rely on classic political science research, much of it thirty years old.  These citations should be augmented by more recent studies to add current material and to support our requirement that students use up-to-date materials in their own research.

David Neubauer and Stephen Meinhold are to be commended for discussing the diversity of ways that laws, programs, and legal customs are implemented in local jurisdictions, the state courts, the 94 federal district courts, and the 13 federal circuits.  They very effectively establish that students cannot assume that what takes place in one jurisdiction will be similar to what occurs in another jurisdiction.  Their attention to both criminal and civil matters confirms the importance of civil issues to daily life, despite the media's primary focus on criminal matters and big ticket civil cases.  And finally, their emphasis on law in local and state jurisdictions substantiates the reality of legal life.  Most law is made in state and local courts, even though the Supreme Court does have the final word.  

The authors state that their goal is to provide a "stand-alone text" which will provide an understanding of the formal legal structures, as well as the political, social, and economic factors that have influenced and continue to shape the legal system.  Although the authors have met their goal, instructors might require an additional book that demonstrates the law in action, such as the classics, AGENT ORANGE ON TRIAL by Peter Schuck,  BUFFALO CREEK DISASTER by Gerald Stern, or GIDEON'S TRUMPET by Anthony Lewis.   

David Neubauer and Stephen Meinhold have authored a very readable volume with new material that should appeal to judicial process students and their teachers.  In addition, legal scholars will find that this volume promotes critical analysis and provides them with a thorough review of the field.


Lewis, Anthony.  1964.  GIDEON'S TRUMPET.  New York: Random House.

Schuck, Peter.  1990.  AGENT ORANGE ON TRIAL: MASS TOXIC DISASTERS IN COURT.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Stern, Gerald.  1976.  BUFFALO CREEK DISASTER. New York: Random House.


FURMAN v. GEORGIA, 408 U.S. 238 (1972).


Copyright 2004 by the author, Rosalie R. Young.