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Not To Be Tossed Lightly Aside, But Hurled With Great Force...

I've blogged before about how Sullivan's Constitutional Law textbook is poorly-edited. After 80 pages of reading today, I'd just like to repeat that if, as a 1L, you somehow end up with a choice of professors, avoid like the plague any class that requires you to use this text. We'll leave aside that fact that punctuation and spelling seem to have been left aside as a non-issue. (The count today? Two sentences without verbs, one of which was almost certainly meant to be a question.) The book has several highly annoying features:

1: Entire paragraphs that are nothing but questions. This is common to law textbooks (what is it about law that makes de rigueur rhetorical questions to which no answer is ever attempted?), but this text will fill a quarter of a page with them. If those questions were then answered, in order, in the paragraphs ahead, it might make sense. This is not always the case.

2: The lack of any structure whatsoever. Some cases are in bold and used as 'main selections.' These may be in sections of their own, but sometimes they're cases that answer a single subheading of a section. Notably, these cases will be listed in a larger, darker font than either the heading or subheading that precedes them. No introduction exists to explain what is considered more important, or to give guidance as to how the book is to be used.

Furthermore, there's no apparent rhyme or reason to which cases are in the notes and which are 'main' cases. Length is no indicator--there's 'notes' cases with excerpts that go on for over four pages. The only difference seems to be that the editing of 'notes' cases is more strict, which means dozens of ellipses and brackets.

Finally, if the cases in a section are in coherent order, I've not discovered it. References to cases fifty pages backward, or worse, forward in the text are given, sometimes without reference. The editing of the references is similarly abysmal. Today's reading included one reference that was off by two-hundred pages, and another off by five.

We're about a fifth of the way through the book. I'm considering just reading the whole thing cover to cover in a few weekends, so as never to have to touch it again.

(If you blog and have suffered through this monstrosity, I encourage you to link to this text with the words "sullivan constitutional law textbook" in the text: if we're lucky, the magic of Google would put criticism before the eyes of the editors.)


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I actually keep Sullivan/Gunther on my bookshelf as a reference. However, your criticisms are valid. It is not well-edited, and it is not terribly useful as a student's first encounter with constitutional law. I suggest that you purchase Erwin Chermerinsky's Constitutional Law: Principles and Policies and read what he has to say on the assigned topics either as a preliminary exercise to reading assignments from Sullivan/Gunther or in lieu of the assigned readings (if the most recent edition of Chermerinsky is not too dated on any given topic). Chermerinsky has a well-justified reputation for being politically far to the left, but his descriptive accounts of the state of actual constitutional law are quite good.
I have Chemerinsky, and have been reading him along with Sullivan--but that volume of reading is rapidly becoming unsustainable. I've therefore been trying to make do with the Legalines outline to the casebook and Chemerinsky. And yet there's something in me that says, "In a rational world, I shouldn't be able to pass a course by completely ignoring the text and working with a summary and a better treatise." I know, I know. It's law school, not a rational world.
Try reading Dressler on Criminal Law... "feuding" is spelled as "fueding" throughout the casebook, along with other less spectacular spelling errors. (They also end sentences with "with," but that's another story.) And my biggest peeve? When Dressler writes such sentences as, "The murderer that..." It's not "that"! It should read "The murderer who..."
As to the references that don't line up, my guess is that it's the result of their not being updated from earlier additions- very sloppy work. They should hire a student to go through and fix it. I'm sure someone would be happy for the summer work.
Your con law professor should probably bare some of the blame. First, he or she perhaps shouldn't have selected the text. And second, assuming the selection, he or she should've perhaps edited, ignoring certain notes/pages/etc. and giving you an outline for where the CLASS was going. I used the book in con law and didn't have a problem with it. I think the worst textbooks are published by West's, in the ugly brown color. I definitely agree that it's f'ing stupid that you have to buy 2-3 EXTRA books in order to learn what the text should teach you. That's one of the problems with law school. The professors think, Why bother to teach them the law when Barbri will do this, so let's get on to the obscure theory. They then spend the entire class, instead of making it clear where the law IS, asking where it's SUPPOSED to be, or harp on an obscure matter that they're currently writing a law review piece on. Completely useless. But the most frustrating point has to be when, after spending 90% of class time discussing theory, the exam is 100% black letter law. . .
Not to denigrate Gerald Gunther, himself a former Columbian (before Stanford raided your school in '62), but I agree, the G/S ConLaw book sucks. Chemerinsky's is the most accessible I've come across, and plus, he teaches at USC, my alma mater. :)
we use it at GW and it is terrible. i am constantly finding mistakes. and the questions do go on forever! maybe that's why i hate reading it.
We used the G/S text for conlaw, and I found it to be quite good. It has some annoying tics, but no more than most conlaw books. (For a variety of reasons, and classes, I've accumulated most of the now-standard conlaw texts.) I found G/S to be much more clear and helpful, for instance, than the Stone and Sunstein book. The discussions following the cases -- even those phrased in the infernal questions -- were insightful and generally helpful. And either the Foundation Press or the Aspen Series are far, far better than anything West produces (the horrible "brown" casebooks.) One that I have always heard good things about but have not read is the Brest, Levinson, Balkin & Amar one -- though from what I understand it is organized far differently than the others and so not as useful as an outside resource. Were there any justice in the world the standard text for all classes would be Tribe's. It was -- and remains -- an invaluable resource. If only he would hurry along the second volume of the third edition . . .
And my biggest peeve? When Dressler writes such sentences as, "The murderer that..." It's not "that"! It should read "The murderer who..."
This is my biggest pet peeve as well, though I may let it slide for murderers. Ryan (Note: murderers, not alleged murderers.)
Hey -- it could be worse. Try reading McCormack's Con Law testbook published by Lexis. Until I read this website, I didn't even know law texts were supposed to be edited at all.
I fully support this attempt to bring criticisms of S/G 15th edition to the attention of the editors. It is lousy!!!

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