Thursday, April 20, 2006

Update: fiction about jails without judges

Here at the site we’ve seen some very smart suggestions for stories illuminating what it’s like to live in a society where the executive can jail a citizen without getting a judge’s approval.

I started the series over what’s at stake in the debate over habeas corpus because even though legal and political circles are much engaged on the subject—see, for example, here and here and here—the popular imagination doesn’t seem much interested. Perhaps the citizenry doesn’t realize what is at risk here, so (I reasoned) maybe a parable or two can help.

Of course, the stories can work two ways. As some pundits and government officials have suggested, maybe habeas corpus isn’t a luxury America can afford given the threat of terrorism. TV viewers have seen plotlines that favor that notion in (among others) 24, Alias, and the BBC’s MI-5. So far, only one suggestion of a novel from this camp has hit the site: Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal.

Most of the other suggested fiction is about the danger of allowing the authorities to imprison individuals without explaining to a judge the reason for doing so.

Pete Anderson recommended “Franz Kafka's The Trial, which unforgettably shows how an innocent man can be unfairly persecuted by a totalitarian state.” Jeremy Dibbell came up with “Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World... both are interesting treatments of ‘what could happen’ after diving down those slippery slopes.” Darkness at Noon was the choice of two political scientists.

Jonathan Freiman of Yale Law School and the firm Wiggin and Dana recommended The Count of Monte Cristo.

Robert A. Ferguson, George Edward Woodberry Professor in Law, Literature and Criticism at Columbia Law School, recommended a story I did not previously know of: Edward Everett Hale's "The Man Without A Country." It’s great stuff—read it here or here—especially since it was written with a different purpose than the one suggested by Professor Ferguson.

Two writers of legal thrillers jumped in with novels with plots involving petitions for habeas corpus, which in this case are challenges to the constitutionality of a conviction or sentence. Scott Turow recommended his own “novel Reversible Errors [which] centers on a habeas proceeding for a man on death row, brought when another man confesses to the crime.” And Alafair Burke suggested Kermit Roosevelt's In the Shadow of the Law.

The invitation is open for suggestions of more novels that illuminate what's at stake when a polity allows--or does not allow--the executive to imprison citizens without judicial review. If you know of a good book and can explain how it fits the bill--and you make your case before May 15--you might just be the winner of a copy of Cary Federman's just-released The Body and the State: Habeas Corpus and American Jurisprudence (SUNY Press, 2006), a $65 value.

Email your suggestions to mazeringue [at] excite [dot] com.

--Marshal Zeringue