Garrett Epps

Garrett Epps is Professor of Law at the University of Baltimore. He covers the Supreme Court for theatlantic.comHis book, American Epic: Reading the US Constitution was published in August 2013 by Oxford University Press.

Recent Articles

Courting Disaster

More than a decade ago, I ran into a friend at a college bookstore. At the time, this man was a professional semiotician and the world's leading academic expert on the delightfully trashy prime-time soap opera "Dallas." On an impulse, I asked him what he thought of the then-new and very hot "L.A. Law." Plainly thinking about this for the first time, he gazed meditatively into the distance for a few seconds and said, "To the American unconscious, the word law means one thing and one thing only: sex. During the era of 'Perry Mason,' society's rule was thou shalt not. In the era of 'L.A. Law,' the commandment is thou shalt." David E. Kelley, then writing "L.A. Law," had grasped that commandment before either of us, and he has parlayed it into a storybook career. Next week will see the premiere of his newest series, "Girls Club," and the question is whether the commandment has changed -- and, if so, whether Kelley has noticed. Kelley is the closest thing mainstream television has to an...

Space is the Place

J oss Whedon is the Hazel Motes of American television. Motes, a hill-country preacher created by Flannery O'Connor, toured the back roads of the American South to win souls for the "Church Without Christ." Having annihilated God, Motes was helplessly possessed nonetheless by the religious instinct -- and, O'Connor later wrote, his peculiar stubborn integrity lay in his absolute inability to rid himself of the yearning to know what he could not believe in. Whedon is stubborn, too. His vision of a perky blond high-school honey who is secretly a vampire-slaying superhero survived the Hollywood shredding machine because of Whedon's persistence: When the studio turned his movie screenplay into Buffy the Vampire Slayer , a campy teen comedy, he bided his time and persuaded the WB to let him re-create it as a weekly TV series (now airing on UPN) -- the best and (for all its teen-slang wisecracking dialogue, the most serious) teen drama on contemporary TV. It's a mark of Whedon's integrity...

The Case Against Jed Bartlet:

"T here's nothing good on TV anymore," a friend recently said. He is a Democrat and a University of North Carolina basketball fan. "I don't watch anything but that ESPN Classic ," which shows videotapes of old Tar Heel victories. For those nostalgic for the days of elected government, there really is little news programming worth watching. Many of my liberal friends have turned for consolation to the alternate universe of The West Wing , a kind of CNN Classic in which a Democratic president holds office, having won it the old-fashioned way. I like pretty much everything about West Wing : the witty banter among attractive young White House staffers, the complexity of the political and diplomatic problems it dramatizes, the way it shows the relentless pace of events in Washington and the desperate improvisations that often turn into settled policy. But in this month of alternate-universe political conventions (if you don't get that you probably don't watch West Wing enough), I am...

Civilization and its Discontents

C ultural novelties are many, but genuinely new art forms don't come along very often. The computer game may be to our time what film was to the early twentieth century. There's a cultural divide about this -- literate young people in their twenties routinely spend leisure hours hunting aliens on their PCs; gaffers like me tend to regard this as a waste of time. But my link to the world of the young is a game called Civilization III , invented by master designer Sid Meier. To call Civilization III a game is probably a misnomer. To those of us who love it, " Civ " is a combination hobby, obsession, and alternate universe. At a time when the air is full of loose talk about the "clash of civilizations," the game's fascination -- and its own evolution over time -- provides interesting insights into the nature of civilization, and even more interesting views of our own ways of thinking about it. "C ivilization" is both a description and an aspiration. The historians of the Annales school...

Book Review: Inventing America

What Kind of Nation: Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and the Epic Struggle to Create a United States. By James F. Simon. Simon and Schuster, 348 pages, $27.50. T en years ago, I made a pilgrimage to Shockoe Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia, where John Marshall is buried. Our little party -- two law clerks and a federal judge -- had to fight its way to the grave site through weeds and brambles. In a city that prides itself on its monuments, this one had been only fitfully tended. I was not entirely surprised: Many Richmonders cannot forgive Marshall for his rudeness to Thomas Jefferson. Marshall and Jefferson, fellow Virginia revolutionaries and cousins, battled for the soul of the infant republic. Jefferson saw the United States as a loose league of "sovereign" states whose central government would be almost wholly dependent on its parts; Marshall favored a robust federal government, with power to regulate commerce and conduct foreign policy without interference by the states. James...

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