Living the Bill of Rights: How to Be an Authentic American

Nat Hentoff, Author
Nat Hentoff, Author HarperCollins $25 (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-019010-1
Reviewed on: 12/01/1981
Release date: 08/01/1998
According to Hentoff's (Speaking Freely, etc.) introduction, the late Supreme Court Justice William Brennan once told the author, ""The Bill of Rights never gets off the page and into the lives of most Americans.... But you've got to tell them stories... about people out there now who are not afraid to fight to keep on being free Americans."" And in 13 profiles Hentoff does just that, reminding us of the power--and duty--of dissent. He begins with the late Justice William O. Douglas, who, in battling the status quo, filed more dissenting opinions (531) and stayed longer on the bench (36 years) than any other justice. Theres the courageous black lawyer Anthony Griffin, who at the bequest of the ACLU, defended the Ku Klux Klan against the state of Texas--and as a result was fired by the NAACP as its Texas general counsel. Justice Brennan himself is profiled in three of the essays as an idealist who liked to quote from Yeats's Cathleen Ni Hoolihan and who believed that ""even the vilest criminal remains a human being possessed of common human dignity."" Two essays are dedicated to educator Kenneth Clarke, who played an essential part in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The book is filled out with recent cases that made the national media (such as that of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, a professional basketball player who on religious grounds refused to stand for the national anthem) and plainer folk who have stood up and spoken out. Hentoff has compiled a lively and timely guide to the U.S. Constitution in action. (July)
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