Wendy Kaminer

Wendy Kaminer is a former senior correspondent for The American Prospect and a contributing editor at The Atlantic Monthly. She also serves on the national board of the American Civil Liberties Union.

A lawyer, social critic, and former Guggenheim Fellow, she writes about law, liberty, feminism, religion, and popular culture. Her latest book is Free for All: Defending Liberty in America Today. Other books she has written include Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials: The Rise of Irrationalism and Perils of Piety; True Love Waits: Essays and Criticism; It's All the Rage: Crime and Culture; I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional: The Recovery Movement and Other Self-Help Fashions; and A Fearful Freedom: Women's Flight from Equality. Kaminer's articles and reviews have appeared in many other publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Nation, and Newsweek, and her commentaries have aired on National Public Radio.

Before embarking on her writing career, Kaminer practiced law as a staff attorney in the New York Legal Aid Society and the New York City Mayor's Office.

Wendy Kaminer retains copyrights to all her articles.

Recent Articles

Death Undying

The Death Penalty: An American History By Stuart Banner, Harvard University Press, 385 pages, $15.95 The Contradictions of American Capital Punishment By Franklin E. Zimring, Oxford University Press, 285 pages, $30.00 More than 3,700 people reside on death row, an average of 60 people are executed annually and, except for a brief period in the 1970s when executions were unconstitutional, capital punishment has been part of our legal system since the Colonial period. It has also been an enduring subject of debate. As Stuart Banner notes in his history of the death penalty, the ink began spilling long ago: "So much has been written and said on the subject of capital punishments," a Philadelphia newspaper observed in 1812, "that it looks almost like presumptive vanity to pursue the topic any further." Still, the pursuit continues, as does the practice of executions. Banner, a University of California, Los Angeles law professor, and Franklin Zimring, an eminent University of California,...

On the Contrary

S ectarian conservatives have reason to resent the First Amendment: It prohibits government officials from posting the Ten Commandments in public places while it protects the Godless Americans March on Washington (scheduled for Nov. 2.) No wonder they think the road to hell is paved with the Bill of Rights. The Constitution surely paves the way to ecumenism, the scourge of most sectarians. Invoking the First Amendment, courts have consistently struck down recurrent efforts by local officials to hang copies of the Ten Commandments in public schools and courtrooms. This is because the Decalogue is not a ceremonial, nonsectarian reference to God (which the Constitution has been construed to allow); it is, as the U.S. Supreme Court has observed, a "sacred text in the Jewish and Christian faiths." Its adoption by government threatens religious as well as nonreligious minorities. Skeptical, secular civil libertarians are generally considered the enemies of religion because they are hostile...

On the Contrary:

I t's naive to expect partisan politicians to play fair, I know; still, I'm always surprised by the boldness of their hypocrisies. Take the initial reaction of Bush administration cheerleaders to demands for an independent investigation of intelligence failures before September 11. Critics of the intelligence community were playing the "blame game," they intoned, practically in unison. Before the administration grudgingly relented and agreed on Sept. 20 to support a limited, independent post-9-11 commission, Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) summarized the party line when he dismissed calls for an independent investigation. "I think the last thing we need is another one of these blame-game commissions that, you know, is just looking to lay blame on an administration or a director of an agency," LaHood said in a National Public Radio interview in September. He professed concern that a special commission would simply duplicate efforts by the Joint House Senate Intelligence Committee. "Members of...

On the Contrary

I t's too bad that the word "Orwellian" is losing its power from overuse, because sometimes no other word will do. Sad to say, it's often used appropriately. There's no better word to describe U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's depiction of himself as a freedom fighter. "We're not sacrificing civil liberties, we're securing civil liberties," he stated on National Public Radio on Sept. 11, 2002. That's why the administration has claimed the unilateral power to designate any one of us a terrorist and subject to indefinite detention without a trial -- or even knowledge of the charges against us. That's why it conducts secret searches of libraries and bookstores and who knows whose offices or computers: It wants to protect our liberty. Is this what the public needs to believe, or can Ashcroft afford to be honest with us and acknowledge that he doesn't trust or value liberty? (I doubt he even understands the notion.) Recent polls give civil libertarians reason for both hope and despair...

On the Contrary:

"W hen will it be OK to laugh again?" So the press and maybe the public wondered after last September 11. The moratorium on laughter, unofficially declared by David Letterman, was intended to signal respect for the dead and for the people who mourned them; but the desire for laughter persisted. Only people hungry for a laugh ask when one will be available. There was no disrespect in this and no denial of grief; people crack jokes at deathbeds and funerals, at least in my family. "Tell him he's driving too fast. That'll get a rise out of him," my brother said to my mother while we gathered around my father on his deathbed. I don't expect to hear even affectionate jokes such as this one around the anniversary of September 11. By the time this column appears, in late September, we will have been drenched in the inevitable bathos of commemoration -- the popular rituals of grief and "healing," the self-conscious solemnity of television's professional talkers and the banalities, or borrowed...

Pages