CAROLINE KENNEDY ON LEGAL RELEVANCE



For three decades, Caroline Kennedy has been working to bring about a greater appreciation for the relevance of law in American life.  After graduating from Columbia Law School, the late President's daughter co-authored two best-selling books and several articles on the pragmatic dimensions of law.  She has also toured the country, speaking on legal topics and engaging the public in legal discussion groups.

REFLECTING THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE

To generate a higher level of interest in legal issues, Kennedy and co-author Ellen Alderman have developed a narrative approach to legal writing.  With remarkable clarity, the law is presented as a reflection of the human experience and a chronicle of the most pivotal issues in our lives.  Through interviews with litigants and witnesses, Kennedy and Alderman bring the law to life in a series of literary accounts that reflect the human drama behind the law.  By relating the stories of people who have been involved in litigation and presenting legal issues in the context of these experiences, the authors have achieved a wider scope of legal relevance.  The books were originally inspired by their studies in law school.  "I think both of us were struck," Kennedy says, "by the stories of the people that we were reading about in our case book, and we thought maybe that would be a way of helping people realize that the law is not just dry and technical or too complicated for them to understand, but its about people everyday."  Their first book, "In Our Defense: The Bill of Rights in Action," examines the impressive nature of constitutional law, its continuing impact on American jurisprudence, and its useful application in a wide range of circumstances.  The bill of rights is, Kennedy says, "Something that affects your life, and we wanted to kind of give a sense of the people behind the document to show its human face.  So our idea was to go into the field and talk to people whose lives have been affected by the Bill of Rights."  Kennedy's strong affinity for the law is evident in her admiration for the constitution.  "I think the thing we tried to do in our book is consider them all together.  That's when you realize how amazing the Bill of Rights really is.  It is the most comprehensive definition of liberty, I think, that's ever been drafted, and were awfully lucky to have it," Kennedy says.

PRESENTING OBJECTIVE ANALYSIS

In their second book, "The Right to Privacy," Kennedy and Alderman discuss more obscure legal topics that are not referred to directly in the constitution.   This best-selling study of the erosion of privacy and its implications for American law has had a major impact on public opinion and placed privacy issues in the vanguard of legislative agendas.  The book is perceptive in illuminating nuances of the law and the pitfalls of oversimplification.  Referring to specific case studies involving the work place, computer information, law enforcement and the press, the authors discuss privacy issues from several perspectives.  With well balanced objectivity, Kennedy and Alderman emphasize the need to protect individual privacy without risking the loss of other rights in the process.  "Almost always," Kennedy states, "when privacy is at stake there is also another very important right or interest involved.  And often the right to privacy gets balanced away or loses out to that other interest---the interest of law enforcement or a free press or a boss's right to run a business, for example."

CATALYST FOR THOUGHT

Each book is intended to serve as a catalyst for discussion and both encourage readers to reach their own conclusions.  "People have different reactions to these issues," says Alderman, "and we just don't have the solution that is right for everybody.  Our goal is to make people more aware of the problem, of the value of privacy and of what we risk losing.  In addition, the more people know about their rights, the better informed they are, then the more likely they are to participate in the process and in the public debate.  We hope to get people thinking about these issues.... The laws there are just about to be made.  It's important now to see what we've done about privacy issues in the past and decide whether that has been satisfactory or whether we want to do more."
The unique realism that characterizes the stories comes partly from the authors' experiences prior to law school.  After completing her undergraduate studies at Harvard, Kennedy worked in documentary film before beginning her legal studies.  She produced films on American history and films for children.  Alderman also worked in documentary film prior to law school, and both writers say the experience has helped them in their quest for a more realistic form of legal writing.  The favorable response from readers and book reviews indicates an increasing appreciation for the relevance of law in daily life.   One reviewer notes:  "They manage to present the human and legal complexities of these cases in language that is accessible to the general reader and is remarkably free of jargon."  Another critic lauds their discerning analysis of obscure legal dilemmas:  "To the credit of Ellen Alderman and Caroline Kennedy, there is now an excellent book that helps clarify and make real the importance of privacy.  The Right to Privacy is a fascinating and well constructed expose of the pivotal legal battles that have helped shape the right of privacy.  It is perhaps the most engaging book on privacy ever written."  Kennedy says the positive public response they found on the tours and call-in shows indicates there is a strong interest in legal issues.  She emphasizes that, "contrary to the perception that people don't care and they're not interested, people really do care about the Bill of Rights.  They take it very seriously."

This article includes information from C-Span Booknotes and Bookpage.com

Brandon Press