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Keeping the Faith: A Cultural History of the U.S. Supreme Court Hardcover – July 1, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-0847689859 ISBN-10: 0847689859 Edition: 1St Edition
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

To students of the Constitution, Semonche's expansive history covers familiar ground. Semonche sees American constitutional law as the apotheosis of a progressive American "civil religion," and if his references to "justices' priestly roles" and the "holy writ of the Constitution" seem stretched, it does cast new light on many well-known constitutional cases and conflicts. While it's tempting to group him with authors who make ever more extravagant claims regarding the Constitution, Semonche's account of the continued advancement of individual liberties throughout American constitutional history never strays too far from the historical facts. His analysis runs through the signing of the Declaration of Independence and adoption of the Constitution; the emergence of the Supreme Court's institutional role as an equal branch of government; the evolution from slavery to the 1960s civil rights era; and the rights revolution and retreat under the Warren and Rehnquist courts, respectively. In each of these eras, Semonche (Religion and Constitutional Government in the United States) finds evidence of an American civil religion. He finds support for his claims in revealing quotations from Supreme Court justices, speeches by political leaders and pleas of citizens appealing to the Supreme Court for assistance. Despite the book's dense and somewhat formulaic presentation, the historical account proves accurate. Still, it's not clear how much is gained by conceiving of constitutional history as a form of civil theology. By accentuating positive developments, Semonche fails to grapple fully with less illustrious periods in our constitutional history (e.g., the separate but equal doctrine), ultimately undercutting the force of his otherwise solid scholarship.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Semonche (history, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) contends that for Americans law is a civil religion and the Constitution is the legal "bible" whose text has continually been interpreted by the Justices to safeguard the rights of individuals to fair, equal, and just treatment under the law. The author not only provides a detailed history of the Court's consistent protection of individual rights but also shows how the cultural dependence on that consistency makes this a law-abiding nation. Brief profiles of the Justices provide background to help clarify the biases that may have influenced their opinions, but the focus is on the cultural impact of the cases, not of the personnel on the court. Semonche writes in plain language, but a moderate understanding of legal terminology and practice is required. An optional choice for law libraries and academic libraries with strong legal history collections.?Jill Ortner, SUNY at Buffalo
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 499 pages
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers; 1St Edition edition (July 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0847689859
  • ISBN-13: 978-0847689859
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,990,898 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 7, 1998
Format: Hardcover
While the media reports of violence, hate groups, and the breakdown of American society into multiple groups seeking narrow, separate identities tend to force one into a pessimistic even hopeless view of American society, this book breaks the reader out of the pit of copycat thinking and leads the lucky reader to a fresh, optimistic understanding of the ties that bind Americans as a people and a nation and the pivotal roles that the men and women of the Supreme Court have played in the creation and nurturing of those ties. It has become fashionable to bemoan American culture; Professor Semonche through meticulous historical research and stimulating ideas gives us a new fashion to follow as we approach the 21st century. He is no Pollyanna, but he firmly believes in the power and uniqueness of the American rule of law and individual freedom and in her citizens' almost unconscious belief in these same things. This book will teach you things you did not know about our highest court and its players, but most importantly it will open your mind to things that, as an American, you really did know but had forgotten.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful By peter irons on August 24, 2000
Format: Paperback
John Semonche is an academic historian who fails to convey in his book any of the human dimension of the Supreme Court and the cases it decides. His thesis is that the Constitution is the Holy Writ of American society and the Court is the expositor of this "civil religion." There are those--Ronald Reagan was one--who believe the Constitution was divinely inspired, but there has never been a consensus among the public--let alone among the Justices--as to the Court's role in expounding any moral lessons in its opinions. There have been cases in which the Court has grounded its decision on moral or ethical values, such as Brown v. Board of Education in striking down school segregation, but most often the Court is badly divided in cases that raise moral issues, such as abortion or school prayer. Unfortunately, Professor Semonche says nothing about the personal backgrounds or religious/moral values of the Justices who are simply names in his book. It would help readers to learn something about the profound skepticism of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, or the passion for "human dignity" of Justice William Brennan. It would also help to learn about the political and social conflicts that surrounded cases involving slavery, free speech, abortion, gay rights, and others, but Semonche says nothing about the cases beyond the briefest review of their facts. In my opinion, there is no context to this book, and nothing to connect the Court to the public. The Supreme Court may occasionally deliver sermons cast in legal terms, but hardly anyone reads them for moral guidance.
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