New Book: We the People, Volume 3: The Civil Rights Revolution. By Bruce Ackerman

We the People, Volume 3: The Civil Rights Revolution

We the People, Volume 3: The Civil Rights Revolution. By Bruce Ackerman. Harvard University Press 2014. ISBN: 9780674050297, 0674050290.

The Civil Rights Revolution carries Bruce Ackerman’s sweeping reinterpretation of constitutional history into the era beginning with Brown v. Board of Education. From Rosa Parks’s courageous defiance, to Martin Luther King’s resounding cadences in “I Have a Dream,” to Lyndon Johnson’s leadership of Congress, to the Supreme Court’s decisions redefining the meaning of equality, the movement to end racial discrimination decisively changed our understanding of the Constitution.

Ackerman anchors his discussion in the landmark statutes of the 1960s: the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Challenging conventional legal analysis and arguing instead that constitutional politics won the day, he describes the complex interactions among branches of government—and also between government and the ordinary people who participated in the struggle. He showcases leaders such as Everett Dirksen, Hubert Humphrey, and Richard Nixon who insisted on real change, not just formal equality, for blacks and other minorities.

The Civil Rights Revolution transformed the Constitution, but not through judicial activism or Article V amendments. The breakthrough was the passage of laws that ended the institutionalized humiliations of Jim Crow and ensured equal rights at work, in schools, and in the voting booth. This legislation gained congressional approval only because of the mobilized support of the American people—and their principles deserve a central place in the nation’s history. Ackerman’s arguments are especially important at a time when the Roberts Court is actively undermining major achievements of America’s Second Reconstruction.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Confronting the Twentieth Century
I. Defining the Canon
1. Are We a Nation?
2. The Living Constitution
3. The Assassin’s Bullet
4. The New Deal Transformed
5. The Turning Point
6. Erasure by Judiciary?
II. Landmarks of Reconstruction
7. Spheres of Humiliation
8. Spheres of Calculation
9. Technocracy in the Workplace
10. The Breakthrough of 1968
III. Dilemmas of Judicial Leadership
11. Brown’s Fate
12. The Switch in Time
13. Spheres of Intimacy
14. Betrayal?


“Bruce Ackerman has written a magnificent, closely textured, political history of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its aftermath. One is surely not surprised that Lyndon B. Johnson and Martin Luther King are often on center stage, but many might be surprised—and then illuminated—to discover the important role played by Richard M. Nixon as well in Ackerman’s often-riveting narrative.”—Sanford Levinson, author of Framed: America’s 51 Constitutions and the Crisis of Governance

“Bruce Ackerman has already transformed our understanding of the Constitution and constitutional interpretation. With this essential volume, he enables us to view the civil rights revolution in an entirely new way.”—Laura Kalman, University of California, Santa Barbara

Bruce Ackerman is Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University.

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