Belonging to America


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Equal Citizenship and the Constitution

Kenneth L. Karst

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Who are the real citizens of America? Which people truly qualify for equality under the law? Two hundred years ago, an honest answer to these questions would have excluded not only women, slaves, and Indians, but also Germans, Scotch-Irish, Catholics, and Jews. Yet the Declaration of Independence expresses a profound commitment to the ideal of equal citizenship. Throughout their history Americans have simultaneously believed in equality and accepted the subordination of groups of people—and both views have been reflected in American law.
In this lively and original book, a leading constitutional law scholar shows how American law has both reflected and defined what it means to be an American, to "belong to America." Kenneth L. Karst shows that the ideal of equal citizenship has long been a vital part of the culture of American public life, and he tells a powerful story about how the idea of equality has developed in America, providing examples from throughout American history, from Dred Scott to Brown vs. Board of Education, from affirmative action to gender discrimination, and from the treatment of American Indians to the status of Christianity. Karst explores the psychological impact of discrimination on those who have been its victims—who, in one way or another, have been told by society that they do not belong. And he argues that the principle of equal citizenship can and should guide the nation's future just as it has shaped its past.

"An extended essay on the notion of a national community of citizenship in the US. . . . An unusual combination of constitutional law, humanistic discourse, and moral preachment; it will add significantly to ongoing debates about equality in America."—Choice

"In this searching study, Kenneth L. Karst explores the tension between the ideals at the core of the nation’s identity and the historical reality of exclusion, domination and discrimination experienced by many groups throughout the nation’s life. . . . Karst shows with great sensitivity how the law has worked to marginalize and exclude women, the poor, and religious and ethnic minorities. . . . He advocates a new constitutional jurisprudence to bring the ideal of equality to full fruition. Karst calls for a renewal of judicial activism based on a substantive concept of equal belonging."—James H. Kettner, Constitution

"Karst draws on law, history, and social science theory to produce an important study of contemporary social problems. . . . Belonging to America exhibits deep learning, wisdom, and humanity."—William E. Pemberton, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science

"We should view Belonging to America as an eloquent reminder of the importance of thinking seriously about equality."—Lauren Robel, Constitutional Commentary

"[An] admirable example of legal criticism and advocacy that can serve as an important resource in bringing about progressive social change."—Leslie Vaughan, Focus on Law Studies

"Karst traces the development of equal citizenship doctrines in American constitutional law, analyzing the role of equality and inclusion norms in the abolition of slavery, in immigration law, in desegregation cases, and in equal employment law. He argues that in upholding claims of equal citizenship, courts have an essential role to play in the maintenance of American culture and identity."—Law and Social Inquiry

"In its political theory the book presents an appealing mixture of liberal and republican elements. . . . One of the most astute and sympathetic male interpreters of feminist writing, [Karst] embraces as a positive virtue an idea of legal decision that rests on very broad principles rather than more precise standards. . . . Highlight[s] the central themes with unavoidable clarity."—R. Kent Greenawalt, Political Science Quarterly

"Karst, while dealing in abstractions, refuses to allow them to float free. He ties his major concepts to living reality via constitutional case law, law that he insists be read as human drama, often tragedy, not judicial games-playing and interesting ’dicta’. . . . The author’s approach is compassionate, in the literal sense of the word, his stance is analyst-cum-advocate, and his sources are varied. He has ’tried to write for an audience that is not limited to lawyers’. . . . [The book’s] strengths are its eclecticism and its provocative, often startling, conjunction of ideas."—Valerie J. Simms, Perspective

"A particularly good book for readers who don’t know much about Constitutional law and don’t care to plow through legal writing."—Feminist Bookstore News

"Well-written. . . . Provides an insightful overview of present-day law and a provocative challenge to the inadequate acknowledgement of equal citizenship in that law. . . . Karst has written a powerful tract in support of equal citizenship."—Mark Tushnet, Journal of American History

"This should be required reading for any student of minority rights."—Midwest Book Review

"[A] compelling book. . . . Belonging to America is a most thoughtful analysis of the meaning of equality in American culture, its legal underpinning, and . . . the too frequent legal undermining of core principles."—Peter I. Rose, Contemporary Sociology

"Karst tackles one of the fundamental conundrums of our time, the tension between community, equality, and liberty."—Timothy J. O’Neill, Journal of Politics

"Karst’s uncommonly absorbing, indeed moving, book stirs reexamination of one’s basic premises. Belonging to America reflects not only a superb, sensitive, mind, but also that even rarer gift for lucid, vigorous, truly engaging prose."—Gerald Gunther, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law, Stanford University, and author of Constitutional Law

"Everything about this wise and learned book attests to its elegance—its style, its argument, and its humanity. Belonging to America rekindles the patriotism that derives from a devotion to the principle of equality. It is a book that deserves to win every prize for which it is eligible."—Leonard W. Levy, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Humanities and History, The Claremont Graduate School

"In a powerful appeal for greater equality in America, a noted legal scholar analyzes the history of discrimination and explains the court rulings that have helped reduce it. . . . This thoughtful analysis deserves serious attention from anyone who wishes to understand how and why the Supreme Court has reshaped American social life."—Booklist

"An impressive dissertation on the differences between the ideal of American citizenship and the realities of civil rights. . . . A complex and elegant study that offers a clear and humane portrait of the evolution of the idea and application of equality in the American system."—Kirkus Reviews

"The major contribution of this engaging and accessible book is that it develops a persuasive account of the notion of equality in the American system. In addition, the individual discussions of race, sex, religion, ethnic background, pluralism, association, empathy, and judicial role are rich and interesting in their own right."—Steven H. Shiffrin, Cornell University Law School

ISBN: 9780300050288
Publication Date: January 23, 1991
340 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4