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), Peter H. Irons
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.