The Poetry of the First Amendment

Wayne L. Trotta


Madison’s Music: On Reading the First Amendment, by Burt Neuborne (New York/London: The New Press, 2015, ISBN 978-1-62097-041-6). 260 pp. Hardcover, $25.95.

If there is one thing the world’s greatest democracy should get right, it would be democracy. Right?
How unfortunate then that recent Supreme Court decisions have, as civil rights attorney Burt Neuborne observes in Madison’s Music: On Reading the First Amendment, left us with a democracy that barely lives up to the name. The five conservative armchair political scientists on the court could not have done any worse had they set out deliberately to undermine our democracy. In Neuborne’s reckoning, they have created a dysfunctional, jurist-rigged electoral process that is fully controlled by a few thousand wealthy oligarchs, in which incumbents can gerrymander their way to permanent job security. If that weren’t enough, when cynical politicians use photo identification cards or proof of citizenship to keep some of us away from the polls, the court’s conservative majority simply looks the other way.

Burt Neuborne is the Inez Milholland Professor of Civil Liberties and the founding legal director of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School. He has served as the national legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. You may remember Neuborne as Jerry Falwell’s lawyer in the Milos Forman film The People v. Larry Flynt and as the Court TV commentator for the trial of O.J. Simpson.

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