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Reading the Constitution

Why I Chose Pragmatism, Not Textualism



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About The Book

A provocative, brilliant analysis by recently retired Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer that deconstructs the textualist philosophy of the current Supreme Court’s supermajority and makes the case for a better way to interpret the Constitution.

The relatively new judicial philosophy of textualism dominates the Supreme Court. Textualists claim that the right way to interpret the Constitution and statutes is to read the text carefully and examine the language as it was understood at the time the documents were written.

This, however, is not Justice Breyer’s philosophy nor has it been the traditional way to interpret the Constitution since the time of Chief Justice John Marshall. Justice Breyer recalls Marshall’s exhortation that the Constitution must be a workable set of principles to be interpreted by subsequent generations.

Most important in interpreting law, says Breyer, is to understand the purposes of statutes as well as the consequences of deciding a case one way or another. He illustrates these principles by examining some of the most important cases in the nation’s history, among them the Dobbs and Bruen decisions from 2022 that he argues were wrongly decided and have led to harmful results.

About The Author

Photograph by Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

Stephen Breyer is a former associate justice of the Supreme Court who served there for twenty-eight years until retiring in 2022. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (March 26, 2024)
  • Length: 368 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781668021538

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Raves and Reviews

“A rocket from a Supreme Court justice who served 28 years on the Court. Justice Breyer shows how the current Supreme Court's alleged textualism and originalism are unsound. His book is a judicial arms-control agreement advocating moderation and a path to what he calls ‘workable democracy.’ You will not read a more important legal work this election year.”

– Bob Woodward, Washington Post reporter and author of 15 #1 New York Times bestselling books

“Breyer offers a cogent explanation of judicial reasoning, focusing particularly on the difference between textualism—now dominating the current Court—and pragmatism, which is his guiding principle. . . . A deeply informed analysis of judicial history.”

Kirkus Reviews

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    Photograph by Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States
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