Sunday, May 30, 2010

Anthony Lewis on the Court, May on The Pill, and more in the book reviews

Anthony Lewis takes up American Original: The Life and Constitution of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia by Joan Biskupic, and John Paul Stevens: An Independent Life by Bill Barnhart and Gene Schlickman, in the New York Review of Books. When the Court decided United States v. Butler in 1936, striking down an important New Deal regulation of agriculture, Justice Harlan F. Stone, in dissent argued that the majority's reasoning was
"addressed to the mind accustomed to believe that it is the business of courts to sit in judgment on the wisdom of legislative action. Courts are not the only agency of government that must be assumed to have capacity to govern."
Ancient history? Until recently one would have thought so....But now those pre-1937 decisions of the Court do not look so dusty. Once again we have headstrong conservative justices on the Supreme Court, eager to impose their vision of governance. In a suit that will reach the Court in a year or two, Republican state attorneys general are challenging the recently enacted health care law as beyond federal power: a claim reminiscent of the rationale of the decisions before 1937.
Lewis writes that "the justice who set the Court on its radical turn to the right is Antonin Scalia, the subject of Joan Biskupic’s fascinating biography, American Original." In contrast, "John Paul Stevens, who is about to retire after thirty-five years on the Supreme Court, is at the opposite pole from Scalia as a judge."

Elaine Tyler May's new book AMERICA AND THE PILL: A History of Promise, Peril, and Liberation is reviewed in the Washington Post. The book's release coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Pill's FDA approval. Ashley Sayeau writes: "at just over 200 pages, the book is as compact and powerful as the pill." The pill gave women needed control over their lives, and it became the most popular form of birth control in the United States.
"When the oral contraceptive arrived on the market, its champions claimed that the tiny pill promised to end human misery and eradicate the causes of war by controlling population." This ambition led to the messy business of separating humanitarians who were truly concerned about world poverty from politicians and corporations (and, shamefully, [Margaret] Sanger herself to an extent) who wanted to use eugenics to weed out "undesirables." Smaller, wealthier families were considered a plus for the Cold War fight against communism as they bolstered capitalism by buying more consumer goods. The pill was further promoted as a key ingredient to happy, nuclear families, and women were expected to use it despite many concerns about negative side effects.
Also in the Washington Post, LYNDON B. JOHNSON by Charles Peters.

The Nation carries an essay by Thomas Sugrue, based on his new book Not Even Past: Barack Obama and the Burden of Race. Also in The Nation, Nicholas Guyatt discusses The Making of African America: The Four Great Migrations by Ira Berlin, and The Political Worlds of Slavery and Freedom by Steven Hahn.

MORE THAN JUST A GAME: Soccer vs. Apartheid: The Most Important Soccer Story Ever Told by Chuck Korr and Marvin Close, is reviewed in the Boston Globe.