Does the Law Morally Bind the Poor?: Or What Good's the Constitution When You Can't Buy a Loaf of Bread?

R. George Wright, Author
R. George Wright, Author New York University Press $70 (288p) ISBN 978-0-8147-9294-0
Reviewed on: 04/01/1996
Release date: 04/01/1996
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This book is provocative but frustrating. Though Wright teaches law (at the Cumberland School of Law at Samford Univ. in Birmingham, Ala.), his argument rarely moves from theory to more practical questions. He suggests cogently that the abject poor not only did not consent to the Constitution when it was adopted but that their latter-day counterparts would likely instead endorse a document that ensured more positive rights, or affirmative obligations on the part of government to alleviate poverty. However, he neglects to examine the difficulties other countries have faced in trying to enforce those kind of positive rights enshrined in their constitutions. He indicts the American criminal justice system for inconsistency: it's willing to consider insanity as a defense but doesn't acknowledge that other circumstances could undermine individual responsibility. However, he does not go on to examine how his critique might be incorporated into defense strategies for violent crimes like, say, the Colin Ferguson ""black rage"" defense. Instead, he suggests that the defense of necessity--which courts may uphold in certain cases, like when a stranded hiker trespasses to escape a blizzard--might be used to exonerate those who illegally beg, obtain shelter or acquire food. In the end, though, Wright is less concerned about bending the legal system than pointing out the inconsistencies that should shame society into combating poverty. (May)
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