The Life of the Law: The People and Cases That Have Shaped Our Society, from King Alfred to Rodney King

Alfred H. Knight, Author Crown Publishers $25 (304p) ISBN 978-0-517-79990-1
Knight, a Nashville lawyer and former federal prosecutor, here makes law accessible with lively, textured sketches of landmark cases and principles. He recounts the story of the Magna Carta, which actually focused on obscure issues and mundane problems but contained the seed of modern constitutionalism: the king is subject to the law. He explains how precedent has been used to incrementally transform the common law (of liability, etc.) but has been treated more cavalierly when the Supreme Court addresses constitutional questions. Knight does not preach legal majesty: while he suggests that Court rulings on press freedom have fostered a free society, the ""trick will be to maintain that marketplace in times of peril."" Similarly, after tracing the history of the Fourth Amendment's protection against unlawful searches and seizures, Knight observes that the Court has been recently moving backward; there is no straight line of constitutional progress. In a few places--as when he erroneously suggests that the Rodney King case was the first time the legitimacy of a jury's decision was questioned--Knight stumbles, but this is mostly a savvy popularization. (May)
Reviewed on: 04/01/1996
Release date: 04/01/1996
Paperback - 978-0-517-88692-2
Hardcover - 978-0-517-43424-6
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