October issue of The Atlantic Monthly, lawyer and...

IN THE

September 29, 1994

IN THE October issue of The Atlantic Monthly, lawyer and author Edward Lazarus takes a dim view of the much heralded recordings of Supreme Court oral arguments, published recently by The New Press:

"As a former law clerk to Justice Harry A. Blackmun, I followed the publicity attending 'May It Please the Court . . .' -- Peter Irons' edited version of 23 famous Supreme Court oral arguments -- with avidity. The snippets Nina Totenberg played on National Public Radio made great teasers. The journal of the American Bar Association lauded the tapes as 'just the kind of learning tool that schools need to teach about the Constitution.'

"But what exactly are students of the Court listening to and absorbing? After all, Irons' tapes will surely be the closest most of his audience, even the lawyers, ever get to the Court itself.

"Did Irons -- despite the enormous difficulty of reducing arguments to a quarter or less of their original size -- really manage to capture the significance and complexity of many of the Court's most historic cases?

"The answer is worse than I feared; and the publisher . . . should in good conscience issue a recall. Irons, a professor of political science at the University of California at San Diego, has pulled the wool over the eyes of a legal and journalistic community that is enthralled by the idea of his enterprise but has not bothered to check his work.

"There is nothing inaccurate about Irons' dedication: 'To Justice William J. Brennan Jr. and Justice Thurgood Marshall, with gratitude and admiration for helping to preserve our Constitution as a living document that protects the rights and dignity of every American.' But Irons could hardly have declared more clearly that he has taken sides in the current debate over constitutional interpretation and the Court's role in our constitutional system. Held up to a mirror, this dedication might very well read, 'Down with Justice Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist for enslaving our Constitution to the intent of its long-dead framers and for allowing tyrannous majorities to trammel individual rights.' However noble the expressed sentiment, it's a poor perspective for the editor of educational material."

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