Book Review by Sapphire Ng
Rights Gone Wrong: How Law Corrupts the Struggle for Equality
by Richard Thompson Ford
Copyright October 2012
Paperback, 288 Pages
This book is uncannily shrewd; it is in a league of its own with its plentiful offerings of unorthodox perspectives, profound arguments, piercing observations and refreshing legal reasoning. The prospective reader might need to perform mental gymnastics to successfully navigate through this book—an absolute treasure consisting of intellectually stimulating analyses and discussions of legal instances which the author considers illustrative of “rights gone wrong.”
This book is indeed exceptionally entertaining and enjoyable in the hands of the right reader. This book also laudably makes one think—a rare and precious quality. The reader has to get his or her mind churning in order to fully appreciate the cerebral arguments raised. Certain intellectual discoveries to be made turn out to be so astonishingly unexpected that they could thus be seared memorably in one’s mind.
Knowledge of or a background in law is not necessary to peruse this book; the easy readability and great accessibility of legal concepts and arguments make the title ideal for the general reader, who will enjoy a privileged and occasionally fun glimpse into the seemingly elusive legal sphere and its battalion of noteworthy cases. The reader is offered a pragmatic look at the complex mechanism of the law, the formidable extent to which the discipline of law could be, and the challenges of formulating effective legislations. The general reader could surely further benefit from reading this book by gaining the opportunity to gauge one’s affinity for, or even to acclimatize oneself to, seemingly idiosyncratic legal reasoning.
This is a fascinating read for pre-law students, and potentially invigorating for future law students. The selection of legal cases cited and examined in the book whets the appetite and provides ample fodder to jumpstart personal research into the law. The sound analyses and evaluations of legislations and phenomena in the book also make the book serviceable to aspiring students of politics or policy; the analytical process underlying the arguments is an art and skill in itself. Those seeking a reasonably challenging academic workout for the mind ought to consider this book as well.
Discussions of the convoluted legal implications of the Ricci v. DeStefano case, the counterproductive Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), and the engrossing details of the class action suit Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes are representative of the delightfully interesting content in the book. It is certainly curious that the Wal-Mart plaintiffs insisted “decentralization and subjective job criteria”—supposedly “legitimate and effective management styles”—to be “inherently discriminatory.” The Ricci case brought forth a labyrinth of incongruous circumstances—the City of New Haven got sued for violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 upon carrying out a series of actions intended to actually avoid such a violation; a decision borne out of the intention to avoid committing disparate-impact discrimination was in fact distorted into a case of allegedly having committed disparate-treatment discrimination.
It is beyond astounding to learn of well-intentioned but potentially counterproductive legislations such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the previously mentioned ADEA. One is left speechless to learn that the ADEA, in its purported aim to protect aged job seekers, in fact “probably encouraged employers to discriminate against older job applicants” due to the greater risks and costs hereby involved in such a hire, and encouraged litigation amongst the presently employed elderly over issues of promotion and termination, and more. It is also somewhat disturbing to be made aware of instances where self-serving members of society have attempted to abuse the IDEA, therefore perversely turning a law designed “to help the disabled and needy” to “a giveaway for the rich and greedy.” Yet another excellently addressed concept in the book pertains to the legal defense bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ), of which was interestingly illustrated through cases involving companies such as the Playboy Club and Hooters, and corresponding decisions that determined whether sex is or is not a BFOQ for the jobs of Playboy Bunnies or Hooters Girls.
Commentary in the book on unexpected ramifications of prominent rulings or legislations are comparably outstanding. Given the prevailing consensus of reverence shown toward the historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling, one might never have imagined that Brown could ever be referred to as “a cautionary tale of the limitations and hazards of legal rights, a story of rights gone wrong,” a position which the author convincingly corroborated. Similarly, the author boldly supported his conviction that rights to women’s equality have sometimes only unfortunately reinforced “chauvinistic condescension and women’s isolation.”
A handful of observations noted in the book strike one as being distinctly astute, thus further perpetuating the intellectual vibe of the book. It was an absolute joy to read the author’s elucidation of certain peculiar or even provocative statements he made such as “poor schools are inherently discriminatory,” and “cheating an [elder] employee of his pension doesn’t involve anti-elderly bias,” or even his efforts at highlighting what he considered a contentious logic, “discrimination is discrimination,” by offering an analogy that equated the harm of “offering your seat on the bus to a woman because of her sex” to “making black people stand in the back of the bus because of their race.”
In addition to excellent analyses of the “aimless activism” of, male chauvinism and contradictions that plagued the Million Man March demonstration, or the engaging discussion of the black identity crisis that Barack Obama seemed to embody, this book certainly consistently delivers and surpasses expectations.
Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the author of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.