Vol. 25 No. 6 (June 2015) pp. 84-88

UNIVERSAL RIGHTS AND THE CONSTITUTION by Stephen A. Simon. Albany: State University of New York Press. 2014. 196pp. Hardcover $75.00. ISBN: 978-1-4384-5185-5. Paperback $24.95. ISBN: 978-1-4384-5186-2.

Reviewed by Jack Wade Nowlin, University of Mississippi School of Law. Email: jnowlin@olemiss.edu.

Stephen Simon, an associate professor of political science at the University of Richmond, is the author of a fascinating new book on the theory and practice of American constitutional interpretation: UNIVERSAL RIGHTS AND THE CONSTITUTION. This volume, one of the latest in the esteemed SUNY series in American Constitutionalism, concerns the crucial question of how to interpret the Constitution in cases where individual rights are at stake. Professor Simon’s work is original, eclectic, well argued, and thoroughly researched. His book will be of great interest to scholars and nicely repays a careful reading.

The foundation of Simon’s analysis is a distinction between two different kinds of constitutional argument: (p. i) “particular arguments” and (p. ii) “universal arguments.” Simon defines “particular arguments” as those grounded in the “nation’s particular legal and historical context” (p. 2). These arguments derive constitutional meaning from sources such as the constitutional text and original understanding. “Universal arguments,” by contrast, move beyond “particular arguments” to universal considerations of natural rights and justice, which Simon believes both underpin American constitutionalism and transcend its specific historical experience.

Simon’s distinction between particular and universal arguments provides an intriguing analytical lens, which generates a number of thought-provoking insights into the nature of constitutional interpretation. The book’s chief concerns relate to the important differences between these two kinds of constitutional arguments and the implications of those differences for the Supreme Court’s proper use of arguments in constitutional cases where rights are in issue. UNIVERSAL RIGHTS AND THE CONSTITUTION is a systematic analysis of these questions with a special emphasis on the important but limited role universal arguments should play in constitutional interpretation.


Vol. 25 No. 5 (May 2015) pp. 81-83

BATTLEGROUND NEW JERSEY VANDERBILT, HAGUE, AND THEIR FIGHT FOR JUSTICE by Nelson Johnson. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. 2014. 288pp. Cloth $29.95. ISBN: 978-0-8135-6972-7

Reviewed by Peter Galie, Professor of Political Science Emeritus, Canisius College. Email: galie@canisius.edu

Seldom does the adoption of a new state constitution emerge from a clash of titans; but that is the story told in Nelson Johnson’s examination of the personal and political forces that cleansed New Jersey’s court system of its ancient rules and “Dickensian absurdity” (p. 5). The titans of New Jersey politics during this period were Arthur Vanderbilt—“The warrior lawyer”-- a Republican WASP from Newark; and Frank Hague, --“Celtic chieftain” – an Irish Catholic Democrat from Jersey City. Their political differences and personal hatred of one another would end with the adoption in 1947 of a new state constitution whose centerpiece, a modernized a judiciary, has been a model for judicial reformers to this day.

Nelson, a lawyer by profession and currently a New Jersey Superior Court Judge, is the author of BOARDWALK EMPIRE: THE BIRTH, HIGH TIMES, AND CORRUPTION OF ATLANTIC CITY (2002) the inspiration for the eponymous HBO series. Johnson is neither a trained historian nor political scientist. His work as a lawyer for the Atlantic City Planning Board in the early years of Casino development and experience as a judge provide the intellectual and experiential background for his writing. BATTLEGROUND NEW JERSEY exhibits the virtues and vices of the lay historian: a colorful journalistic style and dramatic scene construction, but little systematic analysis or statistical data. “I wrote it in a manner that is every bit as familiar — or even more so — than a newspaper article.” The results are mostly positive: vivid and revealing portraits of the political and personal lives of the protagonists: where they came from and the trajectory and intersection of their respective careers. Johnson succeeds in providing the reader with interesting and informative descriptions of the personalities and events that were the crucible out of which a new constitution for New Jersey would emerge.