To mark its 100-year anniversary, the American Civil Liberties Union partners with authors Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman to bring together many of our greatest living writers, each contributing an original piece inspired by a historic ACLU case.
... an engaging and informative foreword by David Cole...offers a good summary of the impressive array of momentous victories the ACLU has achieved, as discussed in these pages ... Readers will find it refreshing to read a collection of essays about court decisions written mostly by novelists. Far be it for me to complain about the way lawyers write, but it is certainly welcome to consider the impact and relevancy of important judicial decisions outside the strict boundaries of legal and constitutional interpretation and instead through the lens of lived experiences, full of struggle, emotion, fear, resilience, hope, and triumph ... giv[es] some of the most important court decisions of the last 100 years a human dimension and added relevance and urgency. The writers achieve this by illuminating the personal stories behind the legal decisions and by connecting their own lives to the legal issues at stake.
The predigested fact patterns that litigators deem suitable for court consumption are bland fare for a novelist’s palate, so it’s enlightening to watch some of our most masterly literary portraitists restore the warts and wardrobes, the motivations and machinations to those whose stories have been stripped down to surnames or pseudonyms ... These accounts illuminate how lawyers, as well as authors, must be skillful narrative crafters, pruning and stretching the unruly features of real life to fit the law’s Procrustean parameters ... I was disappointed not to see Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission — possibly the most notorious Supreme Court case of the millennium — among the cases selected for discussion here, particularly since, in recent years, it’s been increasingly difficult to find mention of the A.C.L.U.’s role in Citizens United or its continuing opposition to campaign finance reform efforts ... Given that this book so often lauds the A.C.L.U. for its defense of unpopular causes, it’s troubling that the A.C.L.U.’s own most unpopular recent case gets such short shrift ... perhaps the public can be forgiven its appetite for courtroom heroes; perhaps the writers can indulge in some happy — albeit temporary — endings; and perhaps the A.C.L.U. deserves to take a victory lap for its many indisputable acts of heroism, and to put out of mind, for the moment, the uncertain road forward.
Some of the essays are cerebral and analytical; others are meditative and achingly personal. All of the entries are compelling, and the overall strength of the collection—never a given in anthologies with dozens of contributors—is a credit to the A-list roster that Chabon and Waldman have gathered[.]