A collection of readings from over two hundred years of judicial decision-making, this volume explores the changing meaning of the central tenets of American political culture. Organized into chapters on natural law, freedom, democracy, equality, and privacy, the selections address issues ranging from the limits of free speech to the right to die with dignity, from affirmative action to abortion. Together the judges' opinions reflect not only the influence of abstract ideas and ideals on the judiciary, but also the evolution of American political values.
H. L. Pohlman introduces each chapter with an essay that traces the genealogy of the principle in question from antiquity to modern times. He also provides headnotes to each chapter subsection explaining the key facts of specific cases. For the most part, however, Pohlman allows the judges to speak for themselves.
The opinions included in the book are drawn from state and lower courts as well as from the records of the United States Supreme Court. As a result, while some of the excerpts, such as Chief Justice Earl Warren's majority opinion in Brown v. Board of Education, are well known, others are less familiar. Whatever the source, each provides a unique perspective on the moral and political ambiguities that have shaped American History.