Vol. 15 No.8 (August 2005), pp.657-659


CIVIL LIBERTIES AND THE CONSTITUTION, (8th Ed), by Lucius J. Barker, Twiley W. Barker, Jr., Michael W. Combs, Kevin L. Lyles, and H.W. Perry, Jr.  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999. 878pp.  Paper.  $100.60.  ISBN: 0-13-082897-1.


Reviewed by Lisa M. Holmes, Department of Political Science, The University of Vermont.  Email: lmholmes@200.uvm.edu .


The variety of casebooks available for constitutional law courses provides considerable latitude for instructors to tailor their choices to their personal preferences and the specific subject matter to be covered in a course.  When choosing a casebook, I tend to give more attention to those that place cases in the relevant political and social context, as well as those that include excerpts of the most important cases, while providing enough detailed discussion of other relevant cases for students to grasp their place in the progression of law as well. 


CIVIL LIBERTIES AND THE CONSTITUTION, now in its 8th edition, satisfies the needs of many who teach constitutional law.  It is easy to see why this book has enjoyed more longevity than many.  The authors provide a lucid and well organized analysis of the most significant cases in all of the traditionally-included issues examined in civil liberties and civil rights courses.  In that way, the authors, in this edition, have not tampered with a good thing.  They retain their focus on placing cases into a political context, providing students with a useful framework for case analysis.  In addition, the authors continue their practice of incorporating important cases of statutory law into their discussion of constitutional law cases.  All that being said, some significant revisions to this edition may influence its reception in the market.  In particular, the authors have included new material and new chapters, expanding most predominantly the sections on equality and discrimination.  The inclusion of this new material results in a book, fully one-half of which is dedicated to civil rights law.


The book is now divided into six main sections and 20 separate chapters.  The first section sets a framework for understanding judicial analysis, fitting law and courts into the political and social context (Chapter 1) and federalism principles (Chapter 2).  These chapters are similar to those found in many books and include descriptions of Supreme Court process, as well as a good discussion of the role of state courts and constitutions in the development of law.  I find this sort of material to be useful but prefer books that do not dwell too much on the introductory material.  This book strikes that balance well.  It provides a good array of background material, without requiring that too much time be expended before getting to the crux of the class material.


The next three sections shift the focus to 1st Amendment law and the rights of the criminally accused.  Section II on religious liberty incorporates one chapter on aid to parochial schools, a chapter on [*658] religion in public schools and in the public sector, and a chapter on free exercise cases.  In Section III, the authors move on to a discussion of other 1st Amendment issues, including two chapters on freedom of expression and one on freedom of the press.  Section IV on the rights of the criminally accused takes the popular approach of including one chapter focused mostly on the exclusionary rule (Chapter 9), one on self-incrimination and the right to counsel (Chapter 10), and another (Chapter 11) addressing the various issues of trials, sentencing, and incarceration.  With Section V, the authors examine issues of discrimination and segregation.  These six chapters focus mostly on issues of racial segregation and discrimination but also include new chapters on age and disability discrimination, and Native American rights.  The last section of the book focuses on gender issues, privacy, and the poor.  This organizational structure is one that would likely work well for most instructors.  For me, the last section of the book proved to be the least cohesive.  I found the discussions of gender-based discrimination, privacy issues, and the poor to be less thematically contained as are the topics in previous sections.  But, I think these three chapters could be integrated easily with the earlier material, allowing instructors with similar concerns to tailor use of this book according to their own preferences.


Each chapter is broken down into useful and well-constructed subsections.  Chapter 7 on “Freedom of Expression in Special Contexts and Freedom of Association,” for example, considers symbolic speech and the speech/conduct distinction, commercial speech, obscenity, student rights, and association.  Such a structure would likely suit many who teach this material.  Each subsection provides a brief introductory essay placing the excerpted cases into the proper political context, while providing generally brief explanations of how other important cases fit into the development of law in that area. 


There is little to criticize here in terms of case selection.  The cases that are typically included in other casebooks are here, and there are no glaring omissions.  Although a matter of personal taste and preference, the opinion excerpts seem generally well done and appropriate.  One can always quibble with these editorial decisions.  I, for example, would probably choose to include Marshall’s dissent in GREGG v. GEORGIA (1976) and would include more from O’Connor’s opinion in WEBSTER v. REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH SERVICE (1989).  But, the authors’ choices here are certainly justifiable and would likely correspond with what is found in most other casebooks.  The more troublesome problem is that this particular casebook is now outdated.  All constitutional law books, in practice if not by definition, become outdated as soon as they are published.  This edition, though, with a 1999 publication date, is at the tail end of the revision cycle, posing difficulties for those using this edition today.  I would find it difficult to justify assigning a book in 2005 that does not include discussions of HILL v. COLORADO (2000), STENBERG v. CARHART (2000), BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA v. DALE (2000), or DICKERSON v. U.S. (2000), to name a few.  [*659]


Although the general framework for analysis and the case selection are the highest priority for me when choosing a casebook for class, the information contained in the appendices is also important.  The authors here provide the requisite text of the U.S. Constitution and a case index.  They also include a case-study analysis of the Bork confirmation battle, and a more in-depth analysis of BROWN v. BOARD OF EDUCATION.  While these two inclusions, especially the analysis of BROWN, are interesting and informative, the space could have been better utilized.  In particular, I found the exclusion of a good glossary and (especially) a useful subject index troublesome.  I would trade either of these for the first appendix dedicated to the Bork nomination.


These few concerns notwithstanding, the authors accomplish their goals of providing insightful and easy to read interpretations of the most significant cases, while explaining their place in our political context. That, fortunately, has not changed from previous editions.  This book would serve well those who teach upper-level constitutional law courses with a focus on political context and an interest in presenting the material that is most widely-covered in such courses.  This most recent edition is, however, heftier and broader in scope than its previous editions, especially with the addition of new chapters.  Covering 20 chapters in one semester (let alone one quarter) could prove difficult.  However, for those interested in finding a book that would allow for some flexibility in determining what subjects would be addressed in a semester, this would be a good choice.  While CIVIL LIBERTIES AND THE CONSTITUTION covers all the material that most instructors look for in a casebook, it does distinguish itself from the pack in important ways.  This most recent edition in particular includes a broader discussion of questions of equality than is found in others that are available.  For those teaching courses with an equal emphasis on civil rights and civil liberties, this book would be particularly attractive.  Once updated for its 9th edition, I would be even more enthusiastic about assigning CIVIL LIBERTIES AND THE CONSTITUTION to my students.



BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA v. DALE, 530 US 640 (2000).


BROWN v. BOARD OF EDUCATION, 347 US 483 (1954).


DICKERSON v. U.S., 530 US 428 (2000).


GREGG v. GEORGIA, 428 US 153 (1976).


HILL v. COLORADO, 530 US 703 (2000).


STENBERG v. CARHART, 530 US 914 (2000).




© Copyright 2005 by the author, Lisa M. Holmes.