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Contempt of Court: The Turn-of-the-Century Lynching That Launched a Hundred Years of Federalism Paperback – February 20, 2001
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“Contempt of Court should join the handful of books such as Anthony Lewis’ Gideon’s Trumpet as required reading for anyone who wants to understand how the Constitution protects individual citizens.”–Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
From the Inside Flap
In this profound and fascinating book, the authors revisit an overlooked Supreme Court decision that changed forever how justice is carried out in the United States.
In 1906, Ed Johnson was the innocnet black man found guilty of the brutal rape of Nevada Taylor, a white woman, and sentenced to die in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Two black lawyers, not even part of the original defense, appealed to the Supreme Court for a stay of execution, and the stay, incredibly, was granted. Frenzied with rage at the deision, locals responded by lynching Johnson, and what ensued was a breathtaking whirlwind of groundbreaking legal action whose import, Thurgood Marshall would claim, "has never been fully explained." Provocative, thorough, and gripping, Contempt of Court is a long-overdue look at events that clearly depict the peculiar and tenuous relationship between justice and the law.
Top Customer Reviews
Then two Black lawyers take up the case. The Supreme Court is horrified at the gross miscarriage of justice, and issues a stay. But the mob, with the Sheriff's apparent approval, decides the legal process is just taking too long, and lynches the defendant.
Contempt of Court tells this story in great detail, bringing all of the characters to life. A fascinating history of the role racism played in the courts at the turn of the century.
But the heart of the book is what followed the lynching. Unlike most cases which were quickly forgotten, the Supreme Court itself instituted contempt charges against the Sheriff for failing to carry out its stay of execution. This is the one and only contempt proceeding ever tried in the Supreme Court itself. It also marked the first time the federal courts had ever sought to review a state court criminal proceeding--setting the stage for such well known rules as "Miranda" and the exclusionary rule.
I completely agree with the blurb on the book's cover. This volume belongs on the shelf next to Simple Justice and Gideon's Trumpet.
Because an order of the Supreme Court had been so deliberately flouted, the Court conducted its only criminal trial in history, with the Department of Justice bringing charges against the sheriff and some members of the lynch mob. The plaintiffs argued that the Court was not competent to hear the case; but in a unanimous decision, it ruled otherwise. After the Court pronounced the sheriff guilty of contempt, there was a significant increase in the number of attempted lynchings thwarted by law enforcement officers. The decision also reinforced the Supreme Court's right to intervene in state capital cases when constitutional due process was at issue.
The authors, one a lawyer and the other a legal affairs writer, have exhaustively researched this compelling (and sometimes moving) story, well explicating the pertinent legal issues. The writing itself is also very good, though fifty pages could have been trimmed from the book by excising unnecessary detail and block quotations, especially in the final third of the volume. There is a bibliography but no endnotes. Rarely have I read a book that might have used them to better advantage.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Amazing insight into one of the weirdest Supreme court cases ever. Very well written and researched. Would recommend to anyone who likes a good story.Published 2 months ago by alec dierenfield
I needed this book for a group project in history class, it was very interesting, I haven't read the entire book, just my assign chapter.Published 3 months ago by gail
great read for me. It was resourceful when it came to my paper in school.Published on June 2, 2014 by V. Young
This book was a page turner. It was well written and compiled to be historically accurate. I absolutely recommend it.Published on March 31, 2014 by Jessica M.
Well written about a little known event and important legal episode. Anyone interested in American history would enjoy this book.Published on February 24, 2014 by Gene Gant
I ran across this book reviewed in the Harlan Family news letter otherwise I would probably never have noticed it. Read morePublished on September 10, 2013 by Shirley A Suttle
I enjoyed the book but thought it was written a bit one sided. Hard to believe that it wasn't that long ago that black people were lynched without recourse or justice.Published on June 5, 2013 by Michael J. Cohen
The U.S. Supreme Court has tried exactly one case in its more than two centuries of existence: U.S. v. Joe Shipp. Read morePublished on January 6, 2012 by James D. DeWitt