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

Native American TV

One of television's persistent puzzles is why the United States, which essentially invented the medium, has taken so long to master televised high narrative. For 30 years, the British have been churning out Masterpiece Theatre miniseries that satisfy the inner soap fan while also teasing the intellect. Only in the last few years, however, with shows like The Sopranos or Six Feet Under , have Americans begun to play and win that game. PBS, the American conduit for most of that highbrow British fare, has recently made a belated bid to create a thought-provoking narrative of its own. Skinwalkers is the first American-produced entry into the network's popular Mystery series. The good news is that Skinwalkers is a stylish and absorbing entry, a mark of how far American narrative TV has come -- but simultaneously a reminder of how far we have to go. Skinwalkers is a 90-minute dramatization of a mystery by New Mexico journalist and author Tony Hillerman, whose novels recount the adventures...

Divisional Playoff

"The two omnipresent parties of history," Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in 1841, are "the party of the Past and the party of the Future." The problem, now as then, is knowing which political party -- Republican or Democrat -- is which. Continental Divide , a fascinating linked pair of plays by British playwright David Edgar that had its world premiere in Ashland, Ore. on March 1 -- and is slated to open in Berkeley, Calif. later this year -- poses that question for Americans with unusual poignancy. Edgar, who teaches playwriting at the University of Birmingham in England, has been a prolific and successful political playwright for more than a quarter-century. His biggest commercial success was his hilarious and moving dramatization of Nicholas Nickleby (made into a popular public-TV special), but his other work, particularly Destiny , a prescient drama about the rise of neo-fascism in Britain, has been consistently interesting. He drew the inspiration for Continental Divide from the...

Grand Illusion

In 2001 historian David Brion Davis wrote in The New York Times , "The United States is only now beginning to recover from the Confederacy's ideological victory following the Civil War." In fact, reports of our recovery may be exaggerated; many white Americans are still holding out in the jungle like Japanese soldiers after World War II. Consider the recent fall of Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), a victim not of racial nostalgia but of excessive frankness. Consider also the recent Republican takeover of state and federal offices in Georgia, largely on the issue of the Confederate battle flag. And consider that a proposal to put build a small statue of Abraham Lincoln in my old hometown of Richmond, Va., has been greeted by many whites as if the proposed honoree were Saddam Hussein. One Virginia representative even demanded a federal investigation of the scum who would propose honoring America's greatest president. Sometimes it seems as if there is a Confederate Office of War Information...

Sterling Character

As a character in a James Thurber cartoon once said, I am still waiting for greatness to be thrust upon me. Watching cable news, I clutch my remote in rage as I imagine myself, gifted with overnight power but unburdened by political debts or campaign commitments, striding the corridors of influence and driving the Beltway crowd before me like the wind. Well, fellow control clutchers, we've got our man inside the Beltway now: William Sterling Jr., the eponym of NBC's mid-season replacement drama Mr. Sterling , which premiered last Friday night. Like Jeff Smith in Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington , Bill Sterling (Josh Brolin) is a squeaky-clean outsider appointed to the Senate by a governor looking for a patsy. But whereas Smith stayed true to his ideals until his simple heartland goodness turned the Senate upside down, Sterling is a sharp-elbowed trickster whose tactics would make Sen. Al D'Amato (R-N.Y.) blush. I'm not sure whether the differences between Sens. Smith and...

Books in Review

First Among Equals: The Supreme Court in American Life By Kenneth Starr. Warner Books, 320 pages, $26.95 B ill Clinton did not destroy his opponents; he drove them insane, and they destroyed themselves. Of all the careers Clinton ended in ignominy -- Bob Dole, Fred Thompson and Newt Gingrich come to mind -- one of the most poignant is that of former judge and Solicitor General Kenneth W. Starr. Until he became independent counsel, Starr was a revered figure in Washington whose integrity and geniality had won respect from many who disagreed with his conservative legal philosophy. But Starr was inveigled into running the Whitewater probe, a job for which he had no discernible credentials. He had been a judge and a government lawyer but knew little of criminal law and had never been a prosecutor. By the end of the impeachment drive, he had become a reviled figure among Democrats and an embarrassment to many Republicans. (Jay Leno, joking about Thanksgiving in the Starr home, asked, "...

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