LAW & CRIME

Fight of the Century: Writers Reflect on 100 Years of Landmark ACLU Cases

Avid Reader: S. & S.. Jan. 2020. ed. by Michael Chabon & Ayelet Waldman. ISBN 9781501190407. $27. LAW
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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been at the forefront of cases related to civil rights in the United States for more than a century. Marking the organization’s centennial, this collection edited by Chabon (The Yiddish Policeman’s Union) and Waldman (Love and Treasure) examines not just the history, but also the social context and ongoing impact of the ACLU’s landmark rulings. Highlights include Chabon’s analysis of the 1933 case United States v. One Book Called Ulysses, describing how the James Joyce novel was labeled obscene and its import forbidden under the Tariff Act of 1930. Author Marlon James explores how racism and homophobia intersect in Lawrence v. Texas, the case that found discriminatory laws regulating homosexual sex unconstitutional. Poet Morgan Parker’s response to Bob Jones University v. United States recounts a sermon by the evangelical university’s founder supporting segregation, and considers the use of biblical distortion to uphold oppression.
VERDICT At a time in which civil rights are under threat worldwide, this collection is a reminder that basic human rights and dignity tend to get crushed under populism. An essential, necessary look at a century of progress, with an eye to the ever-present threat of losing those hard-won rights.

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