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The Supreme Court: The Personalities and Rivalries That Defined America Paperback – December 26, 2007

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; First Edition edition (December 26, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805086854
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805086850
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #655,485 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In his second book this year (after The Most Democratic Branch), Rosen examines how temperament and personal style shape decision making at the U.S. Supreme Court. The author, a law professor and legal affairs editor at the New Republic, profiles four pairs of contrasting personalities: President Thomas Jefferson and Chief Justice John Marshall; Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes and John Marshall Harlan; Justices William O. Douglas and Hugo Black; and finally Justice Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Jefferson, Holmes, Douglas and Scalia are Rosen's exemplars of judicially counterproductive temperaments: they are ideologues, too invested in promoting the purity of their ideas to exert long-term influence on constitutional law. Far more persuasive for Rosen are Marshall, Harlan, Black and Rehnquist, distinguished by collegiality, willingness to compromise and subordinate their own agendas to the prestige of the Court. Most of the book consists of anecdotes about these eight judges, along with summaries of their most celebrated decisions and brief but perceptive explanations of their judicial philosophies. All this is entertaining, although it dilutes the book's stated focus on judicial temperament. Considering today's Court, Rosen believes Chief Justice Roberts will display a successful talent for consensus-building. As Rosen is well aware, a lot rides on the accuracy of this prediction. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Jeffrey Rosen is a professor of law at George Washington University and the legal affairs editor of The New Republic. He is the author of The Most Democratic Branch, The Naked Crowd, and The Unwanted Gaze. His articles have appeared in many publications, including The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, and The New Yorker. He is a frequent contributor to National Public Radio and lives in Washington, D.C.

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Customer Reviews

This book was not terrible, but it wasn't very good either.
David M. Giltinan
This book is a good, alternative way at looking at the history and structure of the Supreme Court.
Having dispensed with the basic premise of Rosen's book, I did quite enjoy the book itself.
Mara Zonderman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

57 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Ronald H. Clark VINE VOICE on February 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the "companion" volume to the recent PBS series on the Court, but it is very different from that program. The author, Jeffrey Rosen, is a Professor of Law at George Washington University here in Washington, although he also writes for "The New Republic" and other prominent magazines such as "The Atlantic." Rather than exclusively focusing on case development, as the PBS series pretty much does, Rosen rather concentrates on developing a focus on the "temperament" of various Justices (and President Jefferson) and how their temperamental outlooks and characteristics affected the activities of the Court. The book is built around four chapters, each of which juxtaposes two individuals, who Rosen argues had substantially different temperaments: Marshall and Jefferson; Harlan I and Holmes; Black and Douglas; and Rehnquist and Scalia.

Rosen's focus on temperament is both helpful and, on occasion, a problem. It is helpful because it reminds us of a fact too often overlooked when reading Supreme Court history: for all their lofty status, the Court is still a small group of strong-minded individuals with healthy egos who have contrasting goals and persuasive techniques, but remain fundamentally just humans with all their frailties. So, they can lose their tempers, get alienated, lash out, suffer emotional hurt, and so forth just like the rest of us. Just as in his previous book, "The Most Democratic Branch" (also reviewed on Amazon), Rosen is extremely skillful in explaining legal concepts and Court holdings in such a way as to make them easily understood by the general reader.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By mrliteral VINE VOICE on May 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover
It's one of the fundamental principles of the U.S. Constitution that the three branches of government are more-or-less equal, with checks and balances assuring that no branch takes over. The reality, of course, is different: at times - particularly in the 1800s - the Congress was the more powerful branch, while at other times -especially recently - the Presidency has taken the reins. The judicial branch, however, has always been in third place; although it makes a difference at times, it rarely is more visible than its "coequals". Nonetheless, there are times that the judicial branch - and in particular, the Supreme Court - has assumed a critical role in history.

Jeffrey Rosen's The Supreme Court is not so much a history of the institution as a study as to how certain personalities affected the Court. He focuses on four such rivalries that dictated not only the direction of the Court but also the direction of the country. The first rivalry (and the only one featuring a non-Court figure) is Thomas Jefferson and John Marshall. These two embodies the two principal political philosophies of the early United States: Republicanism and Federalism. Unlike previous Chief Justices, Marshall really defined the Court and made it an important part of the government, most notably with the Marbury v. Madison decision. Since Marshall differed with Jefferson on many issues, this set the two branches at odds with one another.

The next rivalry is John Marshall Harlan and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., a pairing that is probably the most obscure to the modern reader.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By S.T on May 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For a look into some of the most well known figures in the Supreme Court, this book does a fantastic job. From in-depth analysis of their personalities to little anecdotes on each Justice, the Author clearly knows his history.

It's a tad short, and I think the specific cases could have been covered in greater detail. While it was informative, it didn't have that something special that had me anxious to keep reading. At times, I felt like I was reading a history book.

If you're someone looking to get some background into the Supreme Court and some of the characters that shaped it, this is a good book to start with. You may not feel completely entertained, but you will feel smarter after reading this book.
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on February 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
America's fascination with the law has been a long-standing love affair that traces its roots to an era before the birth of the nation. Although many seem to think that attraction to the law is a recent phenomenon born of television and 24-hour news, history tells a different story. As far back as the early 18th century and the trial of John Peter Zenger, the U.S. has been enthralled by courtroom battles. While television coverage magnified cases such as Terry Schiavo and O.J. Simpson, other moments in history such as the Scopes Monkey Trial and the trial of Fatty Arbuckle were the focus of equally intensive media scrutiny.

Americans love the law, but many citizens lack knowledge of the operation of one significant legal institution: the United States Supreme Court. Indeed, more of us recognize Judge Judy than the nine current sitting justices. The Court itself contributes to the mystery of its operations by a long tradition of cloistered behavior. Little by little, more information about its workings and personalities seem to be coming into the public eye.

THE SUPREME COURT: The Personalities and Rivalries That Defined America, by Jeffrey Rosen, is a companion book to an important four-hour television series on the Supreme Court produced by WNET in New York. Knowing how the Court was created and how it operates helps make the institution more understandable and relevant.

Rosen, a professor of law at George Washington University and a reporter for The New Republic, examines four pairs of influential personalities who shaped the Court. Chief Justice John Marshall and President Thomas Jefferson had contrasting visions on what political role the Court should play as our nation grew.
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