Cover Image: Allow Me to Retort

Allow Me to Retort

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Elie Mystal expertly combines knowledge and wit to create a book that I'm sure to be thinking about years down the line. Unlike many books that attempt to parse constitutional law, Allow Me To Retort is written in a clear, concise manner that breaks down complicated topics into easily digestible bits (without misconstruing facts). I learned something on just about every page. A quote that I'll sit with for a while is: "“[Redeeming our failed Constitution from its bigoted and sexist sins] requires the emerging majority in this country to reject the conservative interpretation of what the Constitution says, and adopt a morally defensible view of what our country means.”
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Baring all the bias for everyone to see!

If you've ever wondered how a "Christian" nation could be so inherently racist for more than 240 years, then you owe it to yourself to bring to this book your very open mind as you take a peek into what our Constitution looks like through the lens of a man who knows how it's been used to support and defend racism throughout our country's history.  The author takes us through history as he demonstrates case after case, event after event, bigot after bigot along this nation's road that led to painting "Black Lives Matter" on the pavement in front of the White House.

I recognize that I'm far too pale-skinned to truly understand where he's coming from, so I accept that those points of his with which I disagree are probably evidence of my own bias more than his.  This is an easy book to read comprehensively, with plenty of straight talk and scathing humor, but it's a difficult book to process emotionally because it demands that we each examine our own roles and challenge ourselves to walk in the other's shoes before we relax comfortably in our belief that we know what our Constitution says, and means.  

Critical thinking, especially in the political arena, is woefully absent from too much of our citizenry today, but books like this one go a long way towards correcting that deficiency.  If you vote (and you should) you owe it to our very democracy to educate yourself as much as you can.  Start with this book to expand your understanding of what this nation stands for, and what it should be.  I voluntarily reviewed an ARC of this book.
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Clear and convincing liberal takedown of the US Constitution. Filled with anecdotes that illustrate his points. This book led me to follow the author on Twitter.
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I found Elie Mystal's Allow Me to Retort a laugh riot of blended outrage and humor. That, of course, means I generally agree with him—about our Constitution's weaknesses and the way in which court rulings on constitutionality are not so much exercises in justice as they are opportunities used to maintain the status quo.

At the beginning, Mystal describes the Constitution as "a document designed to create a society of enduring white male dominance, hastily edited in the margins to allow for what basic political rights white men could be convinced to share" and its content as being "scrawled out over a sweaty summer by people making deals with actual monsters who were trying to protect their rights to rape the humans held in bondage." He points out that "A 5-4 ruling on the Supreme Court directly affects the likelihood of me getting shot to death by the police while driving to the store. It directly affects whether my kids can walk to the bus stop unmolested and unafraid of the cops driving by." The writing is brilliant, the reasoning razor-edged. 

I appreciate Allow Me to Retort because it echoes things I already believe, shows me new ways to understand the things I believe, and pushes me to think beyond my beliefs. This isn't a book that will change the thinking of those already settled in a different set of beliefs. But it sure feels good to have an indignation and outrage I share described with such precision. And to be able to laugh along with raging and weeping.

I received a free electronic review copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley; the opinions are my own.
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I love Elie Mystal and so I expected to love this book. Spoiler alert - I did. I have over 70 highlights in my ebook and my only regret with getting an advance copy is that I could not listen to Mystal read this to me himself as only he could. He uses his biting wit, super smarts, and no F^&*s given approach to give a broad overview of the U.S. Constitution - what key parts mean, why originalists have gotten things so wrong, and how white supremacy is baked into our constitution and the courts that interpret it.  His writing is approachable, funny, and powerful. 

It's impossible to pick my favorite parts, so here are some highlights to give you a taste of what is in store in one of the most rollicking, irreverent constitutional law books I have ever read. 

He opens with this: "Our Constitution is not good. It is a document designed to create a society of enduring white male dominance, hastily edited in the margins to allow for what basic political rights white men could be convinced to share. The Constitution is an imperfect work that urgently and consistently needs to be modified and reimagined to make good on its unrealized promises of justice and equality for all."
All true, and he uses this book to support this argument with straightforward and easy to understand examples that are good for lawyers and non-lawyers alike! 

Here's another: "The astute reader will have noticed that a central theme of this book is that conservatives are irredeemable assholes who consistently act in bad faith to uphold white supremacy and patriarchy over the objection of most minorities, women, and decent people." <-- yup. 

"The law is a collection of subjective decisions we -- well, white people -- have made over the years to protect people and activities they like, and to punish people and activities they don't like." -- is this 100% accurate? I don't think so. And this book suffers the most where it embraces its hyperbole and doesn't delve into nuance. But overall, I appreciate Mystal's sharp take and his views helped me develop my own. 

Overall, I 100% recommend this book to anyone fed up with the Federalist Society or who is angry about the current Supreme Court or who is looking for a conlaw 101 or refresher with no holds barred. I wish I had this book as a 1L in law school to counter some of what we were taught and how. Thank you, Elie, and thank you, Netgalley, for the ARC.
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As a liberal, I found the points in this book to be right in line with my opinion, but also marvel at the simple, easy-to-agree-with points that Mystal makes. Defending the principles enshrined in our laws and not the random text of the laws themselves, understanding that even the Constitution had a ‘day one patch’ to make it agreeable at the time, and that these principles need to apply to each citizen, not one class, are some of my favorites from this book. If you’re looking at an in-depth examination of the Constitution with a relatable feel, this is the book for you.
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Elie Mystal, Allow Me to Retort A Black Guy’s Guide to The Constitution, The New Press, New York, 2022.

Thank you NetGalley for providing me with this uncorrected proof in exchange for an honest review.

Elie Mystal’s title is apt for this book which combines uncomfortable and sometimes abrasive language with arguments (or retorts) that certainly encourage a rethink of the American Constitution and the Amendments. Some readers will not like the abrasive quality of the language; others will find it energising. Mystal certainly maintains the forceful presence he radiates in television debate when it is translated to the page.  I found myself having to pick my way through some of the debate. Regardless of my reservations, I found this book a worthy contribution to discussion of the American Constitution; the role of wealthy white men in its writing, interpretation, decisions about the Amendments and interpretations in the courts; and the way in which black and coloured Americans and women can be neglected in the law.  And, indeed, Elie Mystal has every right to question my reservations about his language. With such a story to tell, with its horrific unpeeling of the discrimination that remains, despite the Amendments, his language cannot be other than strong. So, cast aside reservations, and read this illuminating, but distressing ‘Retort’.

Mystal clarifies the way in which the American Constitution was devised, the philosophy behind it, and the way it works. He concentrates on demonstrating how the Amendments, purportedly designed to overcome its shortcomings, and to introduce elements of fairness that were not considered in the original document do little to alleviate the discrimination suffered by Black Americans. Although he concentrates on the latter, he does not ignore the similarities in some instances that impact on women. One example – the jury of peers: has there been any jury of twelve Black Americans which has judged a white man? A jury of twelve women which has judged a man? How many ‘peers’ of twelve white men have judged a Black American? A woman?

Mystal’s discussion of the right to self defence is particularly acute and helps explain the tortuous defence (fortunately unsuccessful) made by the Defence lawyer in the recent Ahmaud Abery case.  Similarly, each Amendment is ‘unpacked’, debated, clarified, and unfortunately found wanting – if the desired outcome is a non-discriminatory document. 
Mystal does not argue for new amendments, he wants a rejection of the ‘conservative interpretation of what the Constitution says, and adopt[ion of] a morally defensible view of what our country means’. The arguments he makes throughout this thoughtful book are a beginning to that process.

In the Epilogue Mystal deliberates upon the Supreme Court, appointments to the Court, and possible ways to ensure that it works to uphold democratic values. Should its powers be defined and limited? Should it be restructured and reformed? Be more representative? Should term limits be imposed? Should the Supreme Court be expanded? These are questions that make for a thoughtful epilogue indeed.

There are detailed notes, information about Elie Mystal, and a list of other title from The New Press.
This book is at the same time a lively and enthralling discussion of the American Constitution and the Amendments, and a history of the appalling discriminatory treatment it endorses. 

Allow Me to Retort is an excellent read, and, as Elie Mystal would probably retort, accept the language, more, embrace it, as it honours the story he tells.
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as a con law nerd, Elie’s candid and witty analysis was refreshing and enjoyable mostly. (often funny!) maybe a little too anecdotal for my taste, lacking gravitas in some ways, i think Elie stated his case well enough here - centering his personal qualms with the constitution and subsequent bill of rights. that said, i can appreciate and agree with most, if not all, of Elie’s solutions to the deeply rooted constitutional issues, from formation to judicial interpretation, that negatively and disproportionately (still and likely will forever) oppress Black people.

this is a good, albeit superficial at times, analysis (or con law 101 picking?) of the US’ founding and most cherished guide to who “we” are as a nation. i probably would give a higher rating to a deeper and more creative analysis from Elie (which it is obvious he is capable of), as opposed to, what read as the chapters went on, a novice [respectfully] partisan take down. maybe more jurisdictional challenges furthering Elie’s fundamental points? comparison to other countries’ founding documents Elie found more equitable? more attention to justice’s’ dissents?

i give it 3.5 stars.
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This book is an insightful and thought provoking look at the Constitution and how it has shaped our democracy. The author's intellectual  challenges, wit, and frankness should have both the left and the right start to think about what the framers of the constitution, primarily James Madison, really meant or did not mean.

It is well written, direct, humorous (there are examples and analogies that will have you on the floor) and sobering. 

Mystal makes no excuses and pulls no punches in his total disdain for how the constitution has been weaponized by those on the far right and not supported enough by those on left. This should be a required reading for every politician, no matter where you serve or aspire to serve.
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I’ve only been following the author’s interviews and social media for a couple of years now but he has always impressed me with his wit as well as knowledge. So when I saw this book on netgalley, I had to get the advance copy immediately. And I’m so glad I did. 

As an outsider who has only lived in America for about a decade, anything I know about it’s constitution, politics or law is recently learnt, mostly through books or TV. But I have to say, I’ve never read anything law related that is so accessible to common public like this book before. Elie uses his usual humor and candidness to elaborate not just how each of the amendments in the constitution should be interpreted and what their original intents might have been, he also elucidates the various ways in which conservatives and white supremacists and racists have misinterpreted and misused the same amendments and laws to get what they want, discriminate who they want to without fear, cement racism and police brutality against Black people as the norm of the land, and continue to dilute the effectiveness of any constructive law left right now with the help of their conservative majority on the Supreme Court. He is absolutely right when he says that any law even when passed in good faith can and will be misused because a significant population of the country have been made to believe that they can only survive if they can discriminate against all marginalized groups with impunity and enforce their fake morality on everybody. 

The book does present a bleak picture. Despite whatever progress has been made over the decades, its seems obvious these days that things are not going in the right direction anymore. And that helplessness and anger does reflect in the author’s writing. He doesn’t mince his words when he questions even the moral standing of a constitution written by a “collection of slavers and colonizers”. And he understands that they were great men of their times, but it doesn’t mean that we cling to an eighteenth century racist, sexist and bigoted originalist reading of the document. He clearly believes that an honest interpretation of the constitution and its rightful enforcement can still bring about a progressive change to the country, but whether that is a possibility or a pipe dream is something we all have to wait to see. 

In the meantime, if you know someone who uses some magical words from the constitution to justify their bigoted and discriminatory beliefs, do use the points made in this book to question them right back and challenge their worldview.
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I'm so glad a book like this is getting published. So often, books about American politics and complicated legal topics are written by lawyers for other lawyers. This book is written in a way that bridges the gap between legal scholars and the general public. Mystal has a way of writing that's more conversational and personal, allowing his readers to actually engage with the topic. His analysis of the constitution through a more equitable lens is sorely missing from political debate. I've read other books that tackle a similar topic and while they uphold the constitution as an imperfect, but intrinsically good document, Mystal challenges its existence and moral authority entirely. I really enjoyed reading what Mystal had to say about such relevant topics.
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My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher The New Press for an advanced copy of this current events memoir.

According to some the Constitution is a living, breathing, always changing and adapting thing, similar to a Supreme Court decision that gave corporations more rights than woman have over their own bodies. Also these same people when the living argument doesn't work switch to the Constitution should stay just like the Founders wrote it, strict adherence to their centuries old thoughts, and inflexible, as inflexible as the meat that ate in their dining rooms, lit only by candles or whale blubber, and served by slaves.

Elie Mystal, MSNBC commentator, Constitutional scholar, and I hope a huge lover of comics and other fun things cause he drops so many references, and more importantly writer of Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy’s Guide to the Constitution addresses this issues and calls them out, for their double-dealing and well lying. Using both humor, pop culture references and his own amazing legal acumen, Mr. Mystal points out the fallacies, crookedness, deception, and out right lying that makes up most of the arguments, and unfortunately legal decisions that effect us all. Mr. Mystal has a very bleak view of the future, and reading along you tend to agree. America seems to have no grasp of its past, even from months ago, and no clear idea what the future of this country will be, or even an idea of what is slowly being eroded away. 

Many might argue (FOX fans) that Mr. Mystal is crass and rude, and therefore his arguments are moot. They will probably add a "So there", to the end of that comment. Yes he is crass because that is the point. We are at the point where being polite, and holding the door, only gets people excluded and the door slammed shut on their faces and fingers. This country has left a sizeable majority of its people behind and the rest of us are just starting to notice. Unfortunately Mr Mystal has experienced that America, and that he can even joke about it makes him a stronger person than I. And he is very funny. And humor is a weapon against the powerful, because you can always add "just kidding" at the end. It work almost as well as "Well those people, not you".

I won't say this book is vital, but you know what after the last couple of weeks I will say. This is a good primer on what to say to those Uncles we hate that are in our family, those people we have to work with, and well too many people who won't bother reading this book because he's a liberal. Mr. Mystal is actually worse than a liberal. He cares enough to get this mad and write this book. Only love allows a person to point out the flaws in something, not caring about the consequences, and I am sure there will be a lot of grief from both right and left poured on Mr. Mystal. He just wants us and the Constitution to be better, and to try just a little harder.
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This was just great. I have followed Elie for years and I just knew I would love this book.  As he says in the beginning, this isn't a book of legalese, this is a book of things you can tell those people in your life who like to throw around the constitution as why they can do a variety of horrible things.  Our constitution has been misconstrued and misinterpreted for a very long time.  Even worse, it has been waved in the air to rationalize bad behavior.  This quote is a great peek at the approach Elie takes to evaluating each piece of the Constitution, especially the amendments:

"The other difference one will notice about this book is that I treat the law as an argument. People are told that the law is an "objective" thing, almost like it's a form of physics. But it's not: the law is a collection of subjective decisions we have made over the years to protect people and activities we like, and to punish people and activities we don't like."
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I am ignorant when it comes to the in and outs of law.  This book was an education for me in more way than one, but it was never dry or dull.

I appreciate the author's candor and personality he injected into the writing.

Overall it's frustrating to see just how much the constitution (or laws in general) can be manipulated so easily.
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