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The Will of the People: How Public Opinion Has Influenced the Supreme Court and Shaped the Meaning of the Constitution Hardcover – Bargain Price, September 29, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
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“Friedman’s book admirably manages to distill more than two hundred years of constitutional history into a coherent narrative that attends both to continuity and to change. And a distressingly small number of legal academics can match his lucidity or his ability to turn a phrase.” —Justin Driver, The New Republic
“[A] thought-provoking and authoritative history . . . Friedman’s contribution to this discussion is the breadth and detail of his historical canvas, and it’s a significant one.” —Emily Bazelon, The New York Times Book Review
“Serious and academic in tone, this book tackles a complex subject.” —Becky Kennedy, Library Journal
“Friedman offers a fresh, dynamic rethinking of the role of the Constitution and the Court that puts democratic politics at the center of the story.” —Publishers Weekly
“We think of the Supreme Court’s constitutional decisions as lofty, lonely, unchallengeable. But in truth they are part of a dialogue with public opinion and political leadership—and in the long run the Court does not stray far from the public. That is the convincing conclusion of Barry Friedman’s stunning, fascinating history.” —Anthony Lewis, author of Gideon’s Trumpet
“Deeply informed by history and political science, The Will of the People offers a fresh and insightful look at the most profound problem in American constitutional thought: how and whether the Supreme Court may thwart the will of a democratic majority. With elegance, clarity, and patience, Friedman tells the story of how the Court has gauged public opinion: now giving in to its power, now shaping it, and even occasionally standing up to it. No one who cares about the development of the Supreme Court—or the Constitution—should miss this book.” —Noah Feldman, Bemis Professor of Law, Harvard Law School, and author of Divided by God and After Jihad
“In this beautifully written and extensively researched study, Barry Friedman explodes the common myth that the Supreme Court regularly thwarts the will of national majorities. The next time you hear a politician or pundit blather on about an out-of-control judiciary, tell them to stop pontificating until they have read this remarkable book.” —Jack M. Balkin, Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment, Yale Law School
“Since its inception, the United States Supreme Court has had to walk the delicate line between a respect for majority will and a protection of minority rights. Barry Friedman gathers wide-ranging evidence, much from surprising sources, to support the proposition that the court rarely strays too far from public opinion in the exercise of the power of judicial review, and we are better for it. All readers will profit mightily from this learned book, whether or not they buy into Friedman’s arresting thesis.” —Richard Epstein, James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago, Peter and Kirsten Bedford Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, and Visiting Professor at New York University
Top Customer Reviews
Friedman's book renovates this well-rehearsed debate by challenging its core premise. Taking a broad yet detailed historical perspective, he observes that the Supreme Court is rarely out of sync with popular opinion. Under this view, both the demerits and the merits of judicial review will be dampened. The Court is not as susceptible to the charge that it is an activist institution out of touch with the polity. At the same time, it is also not as worthy of praise as an institution that can protect rights and groups from majority whims.
The book is a fascinating sociological study of the Court. It is also an important theoretical work that shows how unelected officials are held indirectly accountable to the people. Most of all, it is a call to reflect and act that is all the more effective for not coming to us as a polemic. This book argues that what we as individual citizens believe, say, and do affects the meaning of the Constitution. It addresses us all, which is why we all should read it.
Anyone reading this will have one response: Lochner. What about the Lochner Era, when the Court mowed down dozens of laws? Friedman actually begins the book at the tail end of the Lochner Era, in 1937, with FDR having just asked Congress to allow him to pack the Court with new Justices. Of course, starting in 1937 tends to foreshorten the Lochner Era so that it seems like a mere personal dispute between FDR and the Supreme Court, when, in fact, Lochner Era activism stretched from 1897 (or even 1887) all the way to 1937. In other words, for fifty years (yes, HALF A CENTURY!) the Supreme Court shot down democratically passed laws—you know, the kind of laws that represent “the considered judgment of the American people.” Yet the Court didn’t care. Boom. Boom.
Boom. Down they went.
How does Friedman explain away the Lochner Era? How does he show that the Court was ultimately responsive to public opinion?
Not very convincingly, I must say. He breaks the Lochner Era up into two parts, the better to tackle the job.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Not often said about books assigned for class, but this one was great. Mr. Friedman does an excellent job at showing the development of the Supreme Court into how we know it... Read morePublished on November 16, 2011 by Claire
This book is on the Rorotoko list. Professor Friedman's interview on "The Will of the People" ran as the Rorotoko Cover Feature on April 4, 2011 (and can be read in the Rorotoko... Read morePublished on October 7, 2011 by ROROTOKO