Presumed Guilty: How the Supreme Court Empowered the Police and Subverted Civil Rights

Liveright. Aug. 2021. 384p. ISBN 9781631496516. $27.95. LAW
One of the foremost U.S. Constitutional scholars and Supreme Court analysts, Chemerinsky (dean, Univ. of California, Berkeley, Sch. of Law; The Conservative Assault on the Constitution), cogently demonstrates in this book that the court bears much of the blame for police violence and racism in U.S. law enforcement. Moving case by case and issue by issue through 19 chapters, he describes how the court has consistently favored unrestrained policing over personal rights. With the brief exception of the 1960s Warren court, conservative justices have weakened or gutted remedies that challenged police misconduct; Chemerinsky says these decisions abandoned the Constitutional safeguards meant to secure the people in their persons and property. This book offers little hope that the current court might shift positions to curtail law enforcement’s chronic pattern of brutality and flagrant disregard for Constitutional rights. Chemerinsky instead proposes alternate ways to reform policing: enforcing states’ Constitutional safeguards; setting up stricter federal and state restraints; aggressive federal prosecution of police; and, perhaps most important, insistent protests and public pressure on all branches of government.
VERDICT Chemerinsky provides an insightful primer for understanding the judicial decisions that support the United States’ prevailing authoritarian, paramilitary, racist approach to policing. He points out problems but also lays out steps to overcoming the Supreme Court’s consistent failure. A thoughtful, provocative, and instructive must-read for anyone concerned with justice and domestic tranquility.
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