In THE INSULAR CASES AND THE EMERGENCE OF AMERICAN EMPIRE, Bartholomew H. Sparrow offers a detailed account of the Supreme Court’s handling of the numerous constitutional questions created by the emergence of an American colonial empire. A political scientist, Sparrow has produced an impressively researched and detailed work of political and legal history that accomplishes three significant tasks: first, it situates the decision to acquire overseas colonies within its contemporary political context and within the larger context of American territorial expansion; second, it describes in detail, analyzes, and offers an account of the public reaction to the thirty-five cases he classes among the Insular Cases; finally, it draws some conclusions about the nature of the empire America acquired at the turn of [*177]the twentieth century, parts of which it continues to administer today. Sparrow’s largest ambition for the work is “to move the Insular Cases back into prominence, to encourage their return to the legal ‘canon’ of Supreme Court cases -- that is, to add them to the list of recognized Supreme Court cases essential for and familiar to students of constitutional law and U.S. political history” (p.10).
Sparrow’s account charts the path traversed by the Supreme Court and by the American polity from its initial state of bitter conflict over the constitutional status of the insular territories to the emergence of a consensus that has become so comfortable that the Insular Cases, which loomed so large when they were first decided, have now fallen into that obscurity from which Sparrow seeks to rescue them. Sparrow aims to unsettle complacency about the constitutional status of our remaining colonial possessions, both by reminding us of the powerful arguments for the constitutional roads not taken and by drawing attention to the moral ambivalence of the constitutional resolution we have reached.
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For an important earlier collection on the Insular Cases, LHB readers will want to remember Christina Duffey Burnette and Burke Marshall, eds., Foreign in a Domestic Sense: Puerto Rico, American Expansion, and the Constitution, and will want to follow Burnette's continuing work, including her essay in Dudziak & Volpp, eds., Legal Borderlands.