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A People's History of the Supreme Court (1999)

av Peter Irons

Andra författare: Howard Zinn (Förord)

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygOmnämnanden
5771030,921 (3.92)18
Beginning with the debates over judicial power in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 to controversial rulings on slavery, racial segregation, free speech, school prayer, abortion, and gay rights, constitutional scholar Peter Irons offers a penetrating look at the highest court in the land. Here are revealing sketches of every justice from John Jay to Samuel Alito, as well as portraits of such legal giants as John Marshall, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Earl Warren, and Thurgood Marshall. Astute, provocative, and extremely accessible, A People's History of the Supreme Court illuminates and pays tribute to a system of justice that both reflects and parallels our country's remarkable legal history. The revised edition has been updated to include recent landmark cases and changes on the bench.… (mer)
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I have always wondered what the big deal with the Supreme Court is -- this book tells the story well -- cases I had never heard of before that opened doors for later ground breaking rulings, but unfortunately more frequently rulings that make your stomach turn. So, good book, slow read. ( )
  WiebkeK | Jan 21, 2021 |
We begin, as they say, from the beginning. The year is 1787 and the controversies of the day are slavery and racial segregation, free speech and a woman's right to end her pregnancy. Aren't we still battling against racial discrimination? Aren't we still fighting for free speech and women's rights? It is disheartening to think we have been railing against crooked judges since the beginning of the Supreme Court. Its inception had a rocky start. Rutledge was deranged and Wilson was jailed for debt, just to name a few examples. It makes you realize the abuse of power really is timeless. McKinley was able to place a brilliant conservative justice with an incompetent one. Fear and intimidation has not changed. Since the beginning of the Supreme Court there have been men who serve as chief justice who cannot separate personal bias from judicial duty.
On the other hand, time marches on and some things do change. At the time of writing, Irons's world consisted of a Supreme Court that had been mostly all white and mostly all old men. We have made some strides to having a diversified Supreme Court. So...there is that. Also, consider this: in the 1920's a woman had her own minimum wage.
I could go on and on. Last comment:Even though this is geared towards a tenth grade reader, it is an important book. Everyone should take a stab at it. If not to see where we are going, but to see where we have been. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Dec 30, 2019 |
In his introduction to A People’s History of the Supreme Court: The Men and Women Whose Cases and Decisions Have Shaped Our Constitution, Peter Irons writes, “Too often in our history, Americans who have claimed the Constitution’s protection of their own ‘liberty’ have denied that it equally protects fellow Americans who differ in race, religion, class, gender, or politics” (pg. xv). Summarizing the constitution of the Supreme Court, he argues, “Just over a hundred people have served on the Supreme Court in just over two hundred years. All but two have been white, all but two have been men [at the time Irons wrote the introduction in 1999], and all but seven have been Christian. Many of the landmark cases these justices have decided were brought by blacks, women, and religious and political dissenters. In a very real sense, the history of the Supreme Court reflects the appeals of powerless ‘outsiders’ to the powerful ‘insiders’ who have shaped the Constitution’s meaning over the past two centuries” (pg. xv). With this in mind, Irons “takes account of the interlocking factors of personality, principle, and politics” (pg. xvi) in his examination of eighty-five cases “to illustrate the connections of law and politics in areas of civil rights and liberties” (pg. xix).

Discussing First Amendment challenges, Irons writes, “Challenges to the Espionage and Sedition Acts of World War I did reach the Court, putting the justices on a collision course with the First Amendment. For the first time since ratification of the Bill of Rights in 1791, the Court was asked to rule that Congress had violated the constitutional ban on laws that abridged ‘freedom of speech, or of the press’” (pg. 268). In his decision in Schenck v. United States (1919), Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. decided “‘the character of every act depends upon the circumstances in which it is done.’ He obviously felt that August 1917 was not an ‘ordinary time’ and that the ‘circumstances’ of their acts deprived them of constitutional protection. Holmes sprang the trap with an example of unprotected speech. ‘The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic’” (pg. 270). Irons concludes, “Holmes did not invent the ‘clear and present danger’ test in First Amendment law, but his Schenck opinion made it a catchword, repeated and employed by later judges in dozens of cases” (pg. 271).

Discussing free speech in schools, Irons summarizes, “Justice Abe Fortas, writing in Tinker v. Des Moines [1969], admitted that ‘symbolic speech’ like Mary Beth’s armband [in protest to the Vietnam War] ‘may start an argument or cause a disturbance.’ But ‘our Constitution says we must take this risk,’ he added. Fortas declared that schools ‘may not be enclaves of totalitarianism’” (pg. 419). Turning to flag-burning in the 1980s, Irons summarizes Justice William J. Brennan’s majority opinion, writing, “Because ‘fundamental rights’ of free expression were at stake, Brenan applied the ‘strict scrutiny’ test; only laws that reflect ‘compelling state interests’ can clear this judicial hurdle… Texas had not charged [Gregory] Johnson with breaching the peace, and states may not ‘ban the expression of certain disagreeable ideas on the unsupported assumption that their very disagreeableness will provoke violence’” (pg. 469).

The overall effect of the book is a sold summary of jurisprudence and the larger cultural background that influenced these decisions. For those seeking to understand the functioning of the Supreme Court and its place in our society, Irons’s book is a great start. ( )
  DarthDeverell | May 13, 2019 |
Taking a representative (if not comprehensive) accounting of the Supreme Court's most significant decisions, Irons puts cultural and political context--and a human face--to the parties involved, painting an absorbing and involving picture of landmark cases that readers are likely to recall but not fully understand. Whether he's explicating the tortuous history of freedom-seeking slave Dred Scott or explaining the "a Jap's a Jap" reasoning behind the legal exculpation of World War II internment camps, Irons reminds us of the court's spotted history while still conveying the deep affection he has for it. (Includes a thoughtful appendix with the complete text of the Constitution and suggestions for further reading.) ( )
  MarkBeronte | Mar 4, 2014 |
This book is a collection of the landmark cases of the Supreme Court as well as documentation of the thinking of the Founding Fathers at the time of the Drafting of the Constitution. It is divided into 6 parts and I am reading it in 3 sections (1787 -1842), (1857 - 1895), and (1895 - 1986) so that I can use it as background for the Presidents Challenge.
Part I is basically the development of the Constitution and the ratification process as well as the process taken to pass the Bill of Rights.

Part II, which I found very interesting, related the beginning of the Supreme Court and the political issues that surrounded the difficulties at its start. Part II also concentrated on the contribution made by Chief Justice John Marshall in protecting the concept that he believed was the reasoning of the Founding Fathers. At the start of John Marshall's tenure as Chief Justice, the influence of the Supreme Court was negligible, however, John Marshall turned that around by wisely avoiding poitical traps and concentrating on the issues of law. Many of the decisions of the Supreme Court during the Marshall years, were considered landmarks because of how the nation reacted to the rulings affecting the future laws of the land. It was also interesting to see how the lives of the Justices did or did not influence their rulings in the cases that were put before them. Parts I & II carried the time frame up until 1842 and there I will stop until next year when I will read Parts III and IV. ( )
  cyderry | Jun 22, 2009 |
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Peter Ironsprimär författarealla utgåvorberäknat
Howard ZinnFörordmedförfattarealla utgåvorbekräftat

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The Constitution of the United States was framed and ratified by men who had just launched a successful revolution to free the American colonies from British rule. Throughout recorded history, most revolutionaries - those who succeed and those who fail alike - have been determined to uproot and replace the political and legal systems against which they fought at risk of life and property. The American revolutionaries were an exception to this general rule.
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Beginning with the debates over judicial power in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 to controversial rulings on slavery, racial segregation, free speech, school prayer, abortion, and gay rights, constitutional scholar Peter Irons offers a penetrating look at the highest court in the land. Here are revealing sketches of every justice from John Jay to Samuel Alito, as well as portraits of such legal giants as John Marshall, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Earl Warren, and Thurgood Marshall. Astute, provocative, and extremely accessible, A People's History of the Supreme Court illuminates and pays tribute to a system of justice that both reflects and parallels our country's remarkable legal history. The revised edition has been updated to include recent landmark cases and changes on the bench.

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