Lat's Legal Library (05.2021): Constitutional Conversations

In this new feature, I'll flag the most buzzworthy books in the legal world for your consideration.

Welcome to Original Jurisdiction, the latest legal publication by me, David Lat. You can learn more about Original Jurisdiction by reading its About page, and you can subscribe through this signup page if so inclined. Thanks!

Welcome to Lat’s Legal Library, a new feature here at Original Jurisdiction in which I’ll highlight noteworthy new books about or related to the law. Many excellent law-related books get published each year but don’t always get reviewed by major publications, perhaps because law is seen as too niche or a trifle dry. As the author of a novel set in the legal world, Supreme Ambitions, I’m familiar with the challenge of getting the mainstream media to pay attention to our little corner of the world. But these books can be exciting and fun — really!

In Lat’s Legal Library, I’ll do my part to help law-related books find an audience. It’s something I’ve been doing for quite a while. During my time at Above the Law, I conducted numerous author interviews, and over the years, I’ve written several book reviews about legal titles for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

Unfortunately, just given the sheer number of law-related books that are published, I can’t review every book or interview every author. But in Lat’s Legal Library, I’ll give shout-outs to books that are generating buzz and of potential interest to my readers.

Going forward, I’m guessing that I’ll publish this feature every month or two months, depending on the number of law books that get published. For this inaugural installment, I decided to reach back a little farther in time than usual, considering titles published in the past three months, i.e., since March 1, 2021.

And now, without further ado, here are eight books I’d like to commend to your attention right now:

  • The Words That Made Us: America's Constitutional Conversation, 1760-1840, by Akhil Reed Amar. A longtime Yale law professor, Amar is one of the nation’s leading scholars of constitutional law, so any time he publishes a book is a noteworthy event. Writing in the New York Times, Adam Cohen described The Words That Made Us as an “excellent,” “insightful,” and “at times surprising” work, a “deeply probing, highly readable study of ‘America’s constitutional conversation’ from 1760 to 1840.” As noted by Cohen, Amar’s book considers not just the words of the constitutional text, but also “the rich cacophony of expression — the national conversation — that produced that text.”

  • Justice, Justice Thou Shalt Pursue: A Life's Work Fighting for a More Perfect Union, by Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Amanda L. Tyler. This book is the last collection of Justice Ginsburg’s writing that she authorized and edited, sent to the publisher just three weeks before her passing. It grew out of a 2019 interview of Justice Ginsburg by Amanda Tyler, a former Ginsburg clerk and professor at Berkeley Law, and it includes not only that interview but also an edited selection of the justice’s favorite briefs, oral arguments, speeches, and other documents. “Because each of Ginsburg’s words is so meaningful, this volume feels like a final gift,” according to Jeffrey Rosen’s review of the book for the Washington Post.

  • How Rights Went Wrong: Why Our Obsession with Rights Is Tearing America Apart, by Jamal Greene. Has our nation’s focus on rights turned into an unhealthy obsession that’s harmful to our democracy? “Rights are the commandments of our civic religion,” argues Greene, a Columbia law professor and prominent con law scholar. “This book is about how to get them right, and why it matters.” Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein praised Greene’s book as “a provocative argument for more humility and listening, and less arrogance and dogmatism…. Perfectly timed and passionately presented, his argument deserves widespread attention.”

  • Antitrust: Taking on Monopoly Power from the Gilded Age to the Digital Age, by Amy Klobuchar. I’m not quite sure how she accomplished this, in between serving as the senior U.S. senator from Minnesota and running for president, but Amy Klobuchar also wrote a New York Times bestselling book. And it wasn’t just your typical gauzy political memoir, but a 624-page book about… antitrust law (which Klobuchar knows as well, as the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust). Reviewing Antitrust for the Times, Liaquat Ahamed commended it as “an impressive work of scholarship, deeply researched,” as well as “highly informative and surprisingly readable in the bargain.” [UPDATE (5/27/21, 8:14 a.m.): Actually, Senator Klobuchar is now the chair of the Subcommittee on Antitrust, as a result of the change of control in the Senate.]

  • The Whiteness of Wealth: How the Tax System Impoverishes Black Americans and How We Can Fix It, by Dorothy A. Brown. A professor at Emory Law and nationally recognized expert in tax policy, race, and class, Brown has written “an eye-opening look at race-based economic biases” (Kirkus Reviews), as well as “an illuminating exploration of how U.S. tax policies exacerbate the Black-white wealth gap” (Publishers Weekly). Per Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist, Brown’s book is “important reading for those who want to understand how inequality is built into the bedrock of American society, and what a more equitable future might look like.”

  • Until Justice Be Done: America's First Civil Rights Movement, from the Revolution to Reconstruction, by Kate Masur. A century before the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s, there was a “first civil rights movement,” in which Black activists and their white allies fought racist laws and institutions in the years leading up to the Civil War. Masur, a history professor at Northwestern, tells the story of this movement, in what Yale law professor John Fabian Witt described in the Washington Post as a “momentous” new book, “a brilliant meditation on progress and its limits.”

  • The Agenda: How a Republican Supreme Court is Reshaping America, by Ian Millhiser. What will the Supreme Court’s 6-3 conservative majority do with its power? That’s the subject of the latest book from Millhiser, the Supreme Court correspondent of Vox. As Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone wrote in the Washington Post, “In this short and very accessible work, Millhiser…. makes a strong case that Americans should be worried about what a Supreme Court shaped in no small part by Donald Trump’s three appointees” will mean for the country and its future.

  • The Accidental History of the US Immigration Courts: War, Fear, and the Roots of Dysfunction, by Alison Peck. In this new book, published today by the University of California Press, Peck, a law professor at West Virginia University, explains how many of the problems of our current immigration system can be traced back to the history and origins of our immigration courts. According to Kermit Roosevelt, professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania, “This pathbreaking book shows us both what is wrong with our current system of deciding immigration cases and how we can fix it.”

So there you have them: my recommended reads for the month of May. Please check them out and consider supporting their authors; any one of these books would make an excellent birthday, graduation, or Father’s Day gift (as would a gift subscription to Original Jurisdiction).

If you have a suggestion for a book for me to feature in a future edition of Lat’s Legal Library, please email it to me at davidlat@substack.com. Your nomination should be a new book, i.e., a book published since the last installment of Lat’s Legal Library, but also a book already available for ordering, i.e., not a forthcoming book to be pre-ordered. Even though these first eight books happen to be non-fiction, I’m open to fiction as well — but fiction or non-fiction, the book should have a sufficient legal nexus (i.e., related to law or the legal world in some way, not just a book by someone who happens to be a lawyer). Thanks!

Disclosure: The links to the books above are Amazon affiliate links, which means that if you buy one of these books after clicking on one of these links, Jeff Bezos sends me some chunk of change from the sale.


Thanks for reading Original Jurisdiction, the latest legal publication by me, David Lat. If you like what you’ve read, you can subscribe through this signup page. The promotional rate of $5 a month or $50 a year, the lowest price point allowed by the Substack platform, will continue until the end of May. Thanks for your support!