Public Opinion and Constitutional Controversy

Edited by Nathaniel Persily, Jack Citrin & Patrick J. Egan

{Oxford University Press: 2008}

Winter 2009

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Public Opinion and Constitutional Controversy, a new book from Columbia Law School Professor Nathaniel Persily, University of California, Berkeley Professor Jack Citrin, and New York University Professor Patrick Egan, presents the first comprehensive analysis of American public opinion on the key constitutional controversies of the 20th century. Those controversies include desegregation, school prayer, abortion, the death penalty, gay rights, and national security. The book unites essays from scholars who explore each issue in depth, utilizing cutting-edge data to analyze how public opinion has shifted over time, and how it impacts the courts and electoral politics. Each essay illustrates the gap between the public and the Supreme Court on these hotly contested issues and investigates why this divergence has grown or shrunk over the last 50 years.

The book grew out of the authors’ examination of public–opinion backlash in the wake of Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down a Texas law that prohibited sexual acts between same-sex couples, and the Massachusetts high court’s invalidation of that state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Persily says he and his co-authors wanted to compare that reaction to the public response in other high-profile culture-war cases, but that no volume compiled the relevant public-opinion data.

“This is the only book that actually puts American public opinion on all the major constitutional controversies together in one place,” says Persily, an expert on constitutional law, the Supreme Court, election law, and American politics.

“This is an incredibly useful book—indispensable for anyone interested in the way constitutional law really works,” says Larry Kramer, Dean and Richard E. Lang Professor of Law at Stanford Law School. “We need to know what this book teaches us: how the public absorbs judicial decisions and what it makes of the controversies that preoccupy lawyers, judges, politicians, and scholars.”

Photographed by Ian Allen

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