Traces the history of the Supreme Court from 1787 to the present day, profiling every justice from John Jay to Stephen Breyer, and examines the cases that have transformed American history and the court''s controversial rulings on such issues as racial segregation, abortion, gay rights, and free speech. 17,500 first printing.
The savvy, chatty author of
The Courage of Their Convictions brings us a scholarly reckoning of the 200-plus years of decisions made by the highest court in the land. Not surprisingly (and justifiably, given his erudite arguments), represents the court''s work as a never-ending appeal of the powerless to the powerful: of the just over 100 supreme justices who have sat on the court, all but two have been white, all but two have been men, and all but seven have been Christian, whereas the supplicants to our nation''s highest bar are typically racial minorities, women, and deviants in some way from the religious and social mainstream.
Taking a representative (if not comprehensive) accounting of the Supreme Court''s most significant decisions, Irons puts cultural and political context--and a human face--to the parties involved, painting an absorbing and involving picture of landmark cases that readers are likely to recall but not fully understand. Whether he''s explicating the tortuous history of freedom-seeking slave Dred Scott or explaining the "a Jap''s a Jap" reasoning behind the legal exculpation of World War II internment camps, Irons reminds us of the court''s spotted history while still conveying the deep affection he has for it. (Includes a thoughtful appendix with the complete text of the Constitution and suggestions for further reading.) --Paul Hughes
From Publishers Weekly
Presenting a sophisticated narrative history of the Supreme Court, Irons (The Courage of Their Convictions, etc.) illustrates the beguiling legacy left by the Constitution''s framers, who conjured up the high Court without providing an instruction manual. Irons is clear about where his ideological sympathy lies, calling Justice William Brennan "my judicial ideal and inspiration" and quoting Brennan''s famous formulation that "the genius of the Constitution" rests in "the adaptability of its great principles to cope with current problems and current needs." Irons traces the development of the Court''s peculiar institutional workings from its first proceedings under Chief Justice John Jay to the struggle for individual liberties during the successive Warren, Burger and Rehnquist Courts. In characterizing the Court as a bastion of racism, classism and sexism prior to Earl Warren''s ascendancy, he often tends to use extended arguments when quick jabs would suffice. But as he delves into the personalities of litigants, justices and senators (who, as far back as 1831, fought fiercely over the confirmations of Supreme Court nominees), Irons proves himself a master of American legal and political history. He is particularly lucid when recounting how Reconstruction reforms, such as the Fourteenth Amendment, that were intended to ensure the liberties of individuals were co-opted by the Gilded Age Court to protect the liberties of business. Irons combines careful research with a populist passion. In doing so, he breathes abundant life into old documents and reminds readers that today''s fiercest arguments about rights are the continuation of the endless American conversation. BOMC selection. (Aug.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Irons, professor of political science and director of the Earl Warren Bill of Rights Project at the University of California, San Diego, as well as the author of eight other books on the U.S. Supreme Court, provides an excellent general history of the Court accessible to lay readers. The main theme is the attempts of ordinary citizens to attain their rights (especially of free speech, religious practices, and personal privacy) through appeal to the Court and to change the shape and meaning of our Constitutional system. Irons briefly discusses judicial opinions in major cases throughout history and shows when the Justices chose to apply constitutional principles, often to the detriment of civil rights and to the rights of disadvantaged groups, such as blacks and women. The book ends with the Casey (1992) decision and the presidential election of 1992. This book will give the general populace better understanding of the Constitution and its history.ASteven Puro, St. Louis Univ.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Irons, a civil liberties lawyer and history professor, brings to life the common people whose real-life circumstances proved precedent setting in Supreme Court decisions. He focuses on the human aspect of decisions, from the impact of the slave trade and related issues in the formation of the nation to the contradictory values of the founding fathers and subsequent lawmakers. Irons reveals that the Bill of Rights was not central to the views of one founder, James Madison; the focus on individual rights was actually a compromise designed to secure ratification of the Constitution. Irons examines how the law has intersected with politics, from the passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments during the radical reconstruction period through the Jim Crow era, when blacks were stripped of previously adjudicated rights. Irons clearly and repeatedly shows how the law reflects political reality above esoteric legal mandates. Irons continues his analysis to 1992, with case histories exploring the political context of the times. His work gives contextual richness to the history of an important American institution.
From Kirkus Reviews
This sweeping history of the Supreme Court will thoroughly aggravate anyone who believes, along with Robert Bork or Justice Antonin Scalia that the Constitution should be read narrowly. Irons (Political Science/Univ. of California, San Diego; May It Please the Court: The First Amendment, 1997, etc.) makes no bones about his ideological stance. To him, the Constitution must be construed in the context of an evolving nation. Not surprisingly, former Justice William Brennan remains my judicial ideal and inspiration. Irons is at his best when he focuses on those litigants before the Court who were outsiders seeking empowerment: people like Fred Korematsu, who challenged the evacuation of Japanese-Americans during WWII, or Homer Plessy, who in 1892 had the audacity to ride in a Louisiana railroad car reserved for white passengers. The decision to explain the Supreme Court and its evolving doctrines through the stories of those whose cases generated rulings that subsequently affected every citizen makes the book accessible to nonlawyers who have a general interest in legal history. This may be why the chapters that trace the early years of the court make for slow going: the little guy litigants with whom Irons identifies are missing, and instead we are left slogging through rehashed material. Finally, while Irons is unabashed about his viewpoint, this candor does nothing to assure readers new to the subject that they are getting the whole, if partisan, story. Irons has a disquieting habit of using loaded adjectives and verbs when describing the thoughts of those justices with whom he disagrees. Thus, Felix Frankfurter pontificates and gives a civics lecture in an opinion that Irons views as wrongheaded, and he barely conceals his disdain for justices, like William Rehnquist and Clarence Thomas, on the other side of the ideological debate. Irons is preaching to the choir. While his history contains a few great stories, it will change no minds. (Book-of-the-Month Club selection) --
Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.