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Presidents and Civil Liberties from Wilson to Obama
A Story of Poor Custodians

$72.99 (C)

  • Date Published: February 2014
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107677081

$ 72.99 (C)

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About the Authors
  • This book is a history of the civil liberties records of American presidents from Woodrow Wilson to Barack Obama. It examines the full range of civil liberties issues: First Amendment rights of freedom of speech, press, and assembly; due process; equal protection, including racial justice, women's rights, and lesbian and gay rights; privacy rights, including reproductive freedom; and national security issues. The book argues that presidents have not protected or advanced civil liberties, and that several have perpetrated some of worst violations. Some Democratic presidents (Wilson and Roosevelt), moreover, have violated civil liberties as badly as some Republican presidents (Nixon and Bush). This is the first book to examine the full civil liberties records of each president (thus, placing a president's record on civil rights with his record on national security issues), and also to compare the performance on particular issues of all the presidents covered.

    • First book to examine the civil liberties records of any group of presidents
    • Features a rigorous non-partisan approach that is critical of Democratic and Republican presidents
    • Includes a concluding chapter summarizing the main themes in the book and how they help to explain Barack Obama's first term as president
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    Reviews & endorsements

    "Sam Walker, one of the nation's most important historians of civil liberties, offers a magisterial and nuanced overview of the troubled relationships between Presidents and civil liberties from Wilson to Obama. This invaluable guide makes clear that no matter what party holds executive office, civil libertarians must look beyond the President for protection of, much less progress on, civil liberties."
    --David Cole, Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center

    "Please publish this exciting, important book as soon as possible! It is an engaging, fascinating, eye-opening, impressively researched and thoughtful discussion of such a vital topic. To the credit of the author, the book is scrupulously fair and non-partisan, taking special pains to dispel stereotypes, shibboleths and oversimplifications about particular Presidents and political parties. The initial exploration of the Obama Administration’s record, putting it into the overall historical context, is very important -- critical but fair."
    --Nadine Strossen, Former President, American Civil Liberties Union (1991-2008), Professor of Law, New York Law School

    "Samuel Walker’s book is enlightening in its particulars, but its overall theme is both unsurprising and disheartening. Civil liberties have never been politically popular. Most often, because these matters are often political 'wedge' issues, support for them brings political condemnation. Neither is it surprising that both Democrats and Republicans have been guilty of ignoring our founding charter, but on occasion, have exhibited abundant courage in insisting on complying with, and even promoting, its provisions. Especially as we approach the 2012 election, Walker deserves great credit not only for exploring this vital issue, but for putting his own political beliefs aside to provide an impartial and important discourse on the importance (or lack thereof) of civil liberties in our political system throughout our country’s history."
    --Virginia Sloan, President, The Constitution Project

    "Besides being well-researched, written, and documented, this book is a great read. It disabuses the reader of the commonly-held notion that some U.S. presidents were beyond reproach. Indeed, all of the presidents included here were a mass of contradictions. Whether under the guise of safeguarding national security, or protecting the country against communism or terrorism, all presidents have ordered or enabled serious violations of civil liberties. Using colorful anecdotes, Professor Walker has avoided writing a dry historical read, instead providing a solid and fascinating history."
    --Marjorie Cohn, Professor of Law, Thomas Jefferson School of Law and author of "Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law"

    "Presidents and Civil Liberties is thoroughly informed, psychologically astute, and sensitive to American values, ideal and real. Avoiding the custom of selective and often politically-inspired citations to isolated incidents, Walker is pitilessly even-handed and nonpartisan in his evaluation of our most recent 17 presidents. This book is destined to be a classic in the fields of history, political science and civil liberties."
    --Norman Dorsen, Stokes Professor of Law and Counselor to the President, New York University, Former President of the ACLU (1976-1991)

    "This is a thoughtful indictment of 20th century US presidents as custodians of citizen civil liberties. Walker provides a highly detailed account of how presidents have either cut corners or outright savaged citizen civil liberties. The thoroughness of his effort here makes this a noteworthy addition to the political and legal history literature."
    --R.E. Dewhirst, Northwest Missouri State University, reviewing for Choice Magazine

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    Product details

    • Date Published: February 2014
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107677081
    • length: 570 pages
    • dimensions: 234 x 156 x 29 mm
    • weight: 0.75kg
    • contains: 9 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Introduction: presidents and civil liberties
    Part I. The Early Years:
    2. Woodrow Wilson and the suppression of civil liberties in World War I
    3. Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover: civil liberties in the wilderness
    4. Franklin D. Roosevelt: the mixed legacy of a strong president
    Part II. Civil Liberties in the Cold War and Civil Rights Eras:
    5. Harry Truman: courage and contradictions
    6. Dwight D. Eisenhower: a failure of presidential leadership
    7. John F. Kennedy: the failed promise of the new frontier
    8. The glory and the tragedy of Lyndon Johnson
    9. Richard Nixon: a singular abuse of presidential power
    Part III. The Post-Watergate Era:
    10. Gerald Ford: a minor president in very interesting times
    11. Jimmy Carter: failed president, good civil libertarian
    12. Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush: the neo-conservative assault on civil liberties
    13. Bill Clinton: the divided soul of a 'new democrat'
    Part IV. Civil Liberties in the Age of Terrorism:
    14. George W. Bush: the worst president ever on civil liberties
    15. Reflections on presidents, civil liberties, and democracy with observations on Barack Obama.

  • Author

    Samuel Walker, University of Nebraska, Omaha
    Samuel Walker is Professor Emeritus of Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. He is author of thirteen books on civil liberties, criminal justice and policing. They include In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU (1990), Hate Speech (1994) and Sense and Nonsense about Crime, 7th edition (2012). He is a frequent commentator on criminal justice and police issues in the national news media and has appeared on CNN, NBC, NPR, PBS Frontline and The History Channel. He has served as a consultant to the US Justice Department and local community groups on police problems.

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