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An enlightening, intensely researched examination of violations of the constitutional principles that preserve individual rights and civil liberties from courtrooms to classrooms.
With telling anecdote and detail, Pulitzer Prize–winner David K. Shipler explores the territory where the Constitution meets everyday America, where legal compromises—before and since 9/11—have undermined the criminal justice system’s fairness, enhanced the executive branch’s power over citizens and immigrants, and impaired some of the freewheeling debate and protest essential in a constitutional democracy.
Shipler demonstrates how the violations tamper with America’s safety in unexpected ways. While a free society takes risks to observe rights, denying rights creates other risks. A suspect’s right to silence may deprive police of a confession, but a forced confession is often false. Honoring the right to a jury trial may be cumbersome, but empowering prosecutors to coerce a guilty plea means evidence goes untested, the charge unproved. An investigation undisciplined by the Bill of Rights may jail the innocent and leave the guilty at large and dangerous. Weakened constitutional rules allow the police to waste precious resources on useless intelligence gathering and frivolous arrests. The criminal courts act less as impartial adjudicators than as conveyor belts from street to prison in a system that some disillusioned participants have nicknamed “McJustice.”
There is, always, a human cost. Shipler shows us victims of torture and abuse—not only suspected terrorists at the hands of the CIA but also murder suspects interrogated by the Chicago police. We see a poverty-stricken woman forced to share an attorney with her drug dealer boyfriend and sentenced to six years in prison when the conflict of interest turns her lawyer against her. We meet high school students suspended for expressing unwelcome political opinions. And we see a pregnant immigrant deported, after years of living legally in the country, for allegedly stealing a lottery ticket.
Often shocking, yet ultimately idealistic, Rights at Risk shows us the shadows of America where the civil liberties we rightly take for granted have been eroded—and summons us to reclaim them.
“There are many books about the stories behind Supreme Court cases. Shipler’s distinctive contribution is the thoroughness and originality of his reporting.” —Jeffrey Rosen, The Washington Post
“Shipler argues that although a basic knowledge of the Bill of Rights by all citizens is not possible to achieve, we need to maintain a robust ‘Constitutional culture.’ By reading this book and discussing it with others, you will be doing your part.” —Portland Book Review
“Shipler . . . combines a journalist’s eye for detail with a sense of moral indignation about what he argues are the many ways the U.S. legal system has curtailed the rights of the accused, many of them poor and powerless minorities. . . . . Shipler is especially convincing about flaws in the system that led to systemic failures of justice. . . . [An] impressively nuanced and textured book.” —Jeffrey Rosen, The Washington Post
“Shipler doesn’t mince words or shy away from the hard issues. . . . The writing is precise, interesting, and frequently moving. . . . His coverage, concreteness, and willingness to candidly take on the range of issues make this a terrific book for anyone interested in our rights and liberties.” —David Kairys, Philadelphia Inquirer
“David Shipler’s important new book powerfully reminds us that our constitutional rights are little more than words on paper if we fail to take them seriously when it's inconvenient or even painful to do so.” —Linda Greenhouse, author of Becoming Justice Blackmun
“David Shipler’s Rights at Risk is simply a wonderful book. It lays out, more powerfully than anything else I have read, how our constitutional rights have been whittled away in recent years—by presidents and judges and police chiefs. All in the name of national security or safe streets. More than a cry in the night, it is a careful, intensely researched account of a dangerous trend that not enough of us have noticed. Not just law, it is human drama.” —Anthony Lewis, author of Gideon’s Trumpet
“In Rights at Risk, Shipler continues his project of showing us how the constitutional rights we exalt in theory are being undermined in practice. This masterful and illuminating book reports how our criminal justice system frequently omits the justice, and how we are not as free to speak out to and against the government as we might like to think. The Constitution needs our help to survive, and reading this book is a valuable first step to reclaiming our fundamental values of fairness and equality for ourselves and for future generations.” —Susan Herman, President of American Civil Liberties Union and author of Taking Liberties
“Fascinating and provocative. . . . This book is a must for readers who want to stay informed of their rights in the shadowy territory where the government’s need for order and security overstep constitutional protections.” —Publishers Weekly , starred review
“Well-reported . . . No matter the issue, Shipler humanizes the discussion throughout, linking each topic to stories of real people silenced, marginalized, neglected, bullied, even brutalized by a government that should know better.” —Kirkus
“An eye-opening and troubling look at failures in the criminal justice system that put at risk the rights of all citizens.” —Booklist
“Fascinating. . . . Monumental. . . . Shipler is particularly good at weaving together legal history and personal storytelling.” —Richard McGill Murphy, Fortune