Engines of Liberty | David Cole

Summary of: Engines of Liberty: The Power of Citizen Activists to Make Constitutional Law
By: David Cole


Welcome to the riveting journey of citizen activists and their tireless fight for justice, as encapsulated in the book ‘Engines of Liberty’ by David Cole. Through an engaging exploration of issues such as same-sex marriage, gun control, and human rights violations, this summary provides insights into the power of activism and the role of the ordinary citizen in shaping constitutional law. You will delve into the historic legal battles, political lobbying, and inspirational stories of individuals who have defied societal norms, challenged oppressive laws, and brought monumental changes in society.

Milestones Towards Marriage Equality

In 2015, the legalization of gay marriage in the United States was celebrated as a significant milestone in civil rights history, but the path to this landmark decision began decades earlier in a small Vermont child custody case. Susan Bellemare and Susan Hamilton, parents of a young son, were at the heart of an emotional court battle after Hamilton’s untimely death. Bellemare’s eventual victory highlighted the lack of legal rights for gay partners and ignited a movement of activists determined to change the status quo. Pioneering couples sued the State of Vermont for denying them marriage licenses, ultimately leading to the 1999 legalization of civil unions and the recognition of same-sex marriage in 2009.

The Battle for Marriage Equality

The journey towards marriage equality in California commenced in 2004, ignited by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s granting of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The fight reached its climax in 2008 with the controversial Proposition 8 that sought to limit marriage to unions between a man and a woman. Despite initial success in garnering 52 percent of the vote, Proposition 8 faced legal challenges and was eventually annulled by the Court of Appeals, paving the way for marriage equality in the state of California.

The struggle for marriage equality in California began with a bold move by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom in 2004. He issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples while challenging the state’s legal recognition of such unions. This sparked years of activism and legislative battles to attain full marriage rights for gay couples in the state.

In June 2008, the California Supreme Court granted a historic win for the LGBTQ+ community by legalizing gay marriage. However, victory was short-lived as conservative groups sprung into action, proposing an amendment to the state constitution that defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman only. Collecting the necessary signatures, this proposition became known as Proposition 8.

Campaigns on both sides spent $40 million in an attempt to sway voters’ opinions. A significant television ad produced by conservatives featured a young girl asserting that she learned at school she could marry a woman, sparking concern among some voters about the influence of LGBTQ+ rights on children. In the end, Proposition 8 narrowly passed with 52 percent of the vote.

The approval of Proposition 8 did not mark the end of the struggle. Legal challenges questioning its validity led to the US Court of Appeals striking it down, thus preventing it from taking effect. When no state representative stepped forward to defend the proposition before the US Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals’ decision stood, and Proposition 8 was nullified. This action cleared the path for marriage equality in California, marking a major milestone in the ongoing nationwide battle for LGBTQ+ rights.

A Milestone for Same-Sex Marriage

In 2013, Ohio resident John Arthur, chronically ill with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, wished to marry his long-time partner, James Obergefell. Due to Ohio’s stance against gay marriage, the couple ventured to Maryland, where it was legal, to exchange their vows. Upon refusal of their home state to recognize their union, they filed a lawsuit against Ohio. This consequential case reached the US Supreme Court and altered the constitutional definition of marriage. The landmark ruling in favor of Obergefell in 2015 decreed that gay couples deserved the same rights as heterosexual spouses, invoking the four key reasons: the freedom to marry one’s chosen life partner; upholding the right to intimate association; legal protection for gay parents and their families; and extending marital rights and benefits to same-sex couples, including inheritance and tax considerations.

Unveiling Florida’s Pro-Gun Momentum

The year 1968 witnessed significant tragedies in the United States, including the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. These events led to the implementation of the Gun Control Act, which aimed to restrict mail-order gun sales. Despite this, activists have consistently pushed for more lenient gun laws, with Florida being particularly receptive. A key driver behind Florida’s pro-gun movement is the National Rifle Association (NRA), aided by lobbyist Marion Hammer, the organization’s first female president. Hammer’s influence played a crucial role in making Florida the first state to pass the stand-your-ground law in 2005, asserting the right to self-defense against threats on one’s own territory or in public spaces. The NRA also encountered obstacles in Virginia, where a 2002 lawsuit sought to ban gun sales. However, amidst the challenges and the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, the appointment of pro-gun judges John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court by President Bush led to a favorable verdict for the NRA in 2008, marking Virginia’s gun ban unconstitutional.

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