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Nixon's Court: His Challenge to Judicial Liberalism and Its Political Consequences Hardcover – October 31, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


Nixon’s Court provides the most definitive account yet written of the reasoning behind President Nixon’s choices for Supreme Court justicies and the legal and electorial consequences of those choices. . . . McMahon skillfully uses a combination of archival material (including the Nixon tapes), press accounts, personal interviews, and statistical data to make a persuasive case, breaking new ground in the understanding of Nixon’s leadership and its long-term impact on judicial and partisan politics. Entwining insightful historical and legal analyses with a lively narrative, McMahon’s book is highly readable for undergraduate students and general readers as well as academics. Nixon’s Court is an outstanding contribution to presidential studies and Supreme Court history that revises the understanding of the Nixon presidency and the Republican resurgence that followed. Highly recommended.”
(M. N. Green Choice)

Nixon’s Court  provides a compelling case study at the intersection of constitutional law, judicial politics and presidential studies. . . . [McMahon] shows how the larger context of American politics shaped the judicial policies of a president who cared less about waging a jurisprudential counter-revolution and more about doing whatever was necessary to remain in power.”
(Frank J. Colucci Law and Politics Book Review)

“The standard view of Richard M. Nixon’s staffing of the Burger court is that of ‘a counterrevolution that wasn’t.’ Nixon’s Court by Kevin J. McMahon effectively dispels this idea and replaces it with a well-researched, tightly written critique that demonstrates that Nixon cared about two issues—busing and crime—and that he was effective in moving the Court to adopt positions close to his own. . . . [A] valuable addition to regime literature. It vividly illuminates both the Nixon presidency and the Burger court.”
(L. A. Scot Powe Jr., University of Texas at Austin Journal of American History)

“McMahon’s book is valuable for insights into Nixon’s mindset in selecting his Supreme Court candidates."
(Leonard H. Becker Washington Lawyer)

“[A] balanced, provocative, and engaging book. McMahon’s valuable effort to correct the record on the Nixon presidency should not go unnoticed.”
(Helena Silverstein, Lafayette College Journal of Interdisciplinary History)

“[A]n engaging and wonderfully illuminating reassessment of the president’s judicial legacy.”
(Pamela Brandwein, University of Michigan Perspectives on Politics)

“[A] careful study of how a president could (and in the case of Nixon, did) use judicial policy-making, from appointments of Justices to the nuts-and-bolts of executive enforcement of the laws, to foster political objectives. . . . McMahon has an important story to tell, and he tells it well.”
(Reviews in American History)

“McMahon’s excellent account of how Richard Nixon’s judicial strategy was driven by his electoral strategy provides ample evidence that constitutional law is indeed shaped by broader political forces. It also challenges some of the conventional wisdom about the impact of Nixon’s appointments and his motives for making them. . . . It is carefully and thoroughly researched and clearly argued, and offers new insights into an important era that continues to have an impact on our judicial and electoral politics. . . . [A] very fine piece of scholarship.”
(Katy J. Harriger, Wake Forest University Review of Politics)

“Kevin McMahon makes excellent use of the extensive archival record and the infamous oval office tapes to provide a persuasive case that Nixon chose his nominees largely on the basis of electoral calculations. . . . Nicely researched [and] well-documented.”
(Matthew J. Dickinson, Middlebury College Political Science Quarterly)

“Kevin McMahon’s skills at archival research, statistical analysis, and constitutional law analysis combine here into a superlative account of Nixon’s judicial strategy, its impact on the Court, and the corresponding implications of Court decisions on his political fortunes. McMahon’s work will force a reconsideration of Nixon’s political strategy and will broaden the focus beyond the simplistic ‘Southern Strategy’ explanations to a consideration of all components of Nixon’s New American Majority. All students of the presidency will benefit from a close reading of this work.”
(Richard M. Pious, author of Why Presidents Fail)

 “This book is fascinating, original, and important. It adds a rich case study to the regime politics literature that claims politicians use courts to advance their electoral and policy aims. McMahon deploys multiple sources of evidence to reveal how Nixon shifted the Supreme Court to the right on school desegregation and law and order as a successful electoral strategy, bringing white southerners and ethnic Catholics into the Republican fold and profoundly reshaping American politics.”
(Terri Peretti, Santa Clara University)

“In this utterly engaging book, Kevin McMahon argues that Richard Nixon’s judicial strategy, and Nixon himself, have been misunderstood. Nixon’s actual ideology was more moderate than his public rhetoric implied; his concerns about the judiciary extended beyond the legal and into the electoral; and his record, properly understood, proved more auspicious than others have credited him. This important book will force scholars to rethink not only Nixon’s presidency, but also the very criteria upon which they categorize all presidents’ successes and failures.”
(William G. Howell, University of Chicago)

Nixon’s Court will attract a lot of attention and set the record straight in some important areas. The Nixon Court may have been ‘a counterrevolution that wasn’t,’ but McMahon demonstrates that this should not be considered a failure on Nixon’s part, but consistent with his stated objectives.”

(Ken I. Kersch, Boston College)

“Emphasizing Richard Nixon’s use of the power to nominate Supreme Court justices and his articulation of constitutional views as an electoral strategy rather than an ideological one, Nixon’s Court provides a powerful account of why the Burger Court was less conservative than many hoped (and feared) it would be. Kevin McMahon’s important argument connecting presidential electoral concerns to developments in constitutional law makes clear some previously obscured facets of the Supreme Court’s work in the late twentieth century.”
(Mark Tushnet, Harvard Law School)

“Kevin McMahon, who revealed how New Dealers shaped a Supreme Court open to the civil rights movement, now shows how Richard Nixon used the Court to divide Democrats and open the way for a new conservative coalition. But today’s conservatives still seek to push the Court further to the right—so the battle Nixon began continues in the age of Obama and may determine its fate.”
(Rogers M. Smith, University of Pennsylvania)

About the Author

 Kevin J. McMahon is the John R. Reitemeyer and Charles A. Dana Research Associate Professor of Political Science at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. His books include Reconsidering Roosevelt on Race, also published by the University of Chicago Press and winner of the American Political Science Association’s Richard E. Neustadt Award.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 360 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1St Edition edition (October 31, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226561194
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226561196
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #964,874 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Ronald H. Clark VINE VOICE on December 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I believe that this solid study will be of particular interest to those who are interested in (1) the Nixon presidency; (2) the interactions between a president and the courts; and (3) how a president may utilize judicial issues to enhance his political objectives. At issue is how Nixon utilized the courts as a political issue to try and build a new GOP coalition to undermine the New Deal coalition. While the book is a detailed analysis, and not light bedtime reading, it is so well done and so interesting that the reader can move efficiently through its 300 pages of text and notes.

The author first discusses how Nixon secured his 1968 electoral victory. Throughout the book, the author is careful to picture Nixon not as a wild, hard right ideologue, using topics like "crime in the streets" to undertake a wholesale attack on the judiciary. Rather, Nixon is seen as being overwhelmingly restrained and pragmatic, working to construct a dominant coalition, whether using a "southern strategy" or focusing on the "urban north." Contrary to popular legend, Nixon did not try and stop school desegregation, but adopted a strategy of doing no more or less than the courts had ordered. He then could present himself to southern conservatives as being helpless to alter the pace of change, even while suggesting that he was as opposed to these developments as were they.

The most direct way Nixon sought to influence the Supreme Court was via appointments--he made 4 during his aborted presidency. The author discusses the appointment of Burger as Chief Justice, and the failed nominations of southerners Haynsworth and Carswell.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
If you believe that it was Ronald Reagan who turned white working-class men into Republicans, or if you think Richard Nixon's Supreme Court nominees failed to carry out his agenda, this book is for you. A nuanced and thoughtful study of a extraordinarily crafty politician, Richard Nixon, and his powerful effect on the federal judiciary and American politics. Anyone who wants to understand the judicial legacy of Richard Nixon has to start with this book.
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Format: Hardcover
I kept waiting for this book to get better, or provide something new. Sure, I learned that Leon Panetta was a bit player in helping to shape "Nixon's Court" and that Gerald Ford was impacted by Nixon's choices in 1976. However, a lot of the information in this volume can be found in Stephen Ambrose's excellent biographies of 37th President, John Dean's mediocre "The Rehnquist Choice," and Ethan Bronner's under-appreciated "Battle for Justice." Linda Greenhouse's "Becoming Justice Blackmun" is another great resource.

The first several chapters of this work are geared towards Nixon's electioneering, and how Republican politics shaped the presidential campaigns (thereby influencing discussions of the Supreme Court and potential nominees). The narrative of the Court itself picks up in the middle of the book with Nixon firmly in power and grappling with difficult decisions such as busing, pornography, and affirmative action. The last section of the book deal adeptly with the individual issues faced by the court and how that influenced later decisions (and voting patterns).

The middle and latter parts of the book are the best, but one wishes the Court had been the actor rather than Nixon himself. Insight into the Supreme Court would have been welcomed since so much is known about Nixon during this period; far less is objectively known about Burger and his leadership. (Indeed, the best analysis of the Warren Burger Court probably is "The Counter-Revolution That Wasn't" by Vincent Blasi). One still wonders, upon completing this, why the counter-revolution failed and why Nixon couldn't do more -- or didn't choose to do more -- to overcome the decision-making of Warren Court.
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