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A People's History of the Supreme Court


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About the Author

Peter Irons is professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of five previous award-winning books. The most recent, A People's History of the Supreme Court, was awarded the Silver Gavel Certificate of Merit by the American Bar Association.


Presenting a sophisticated narrative history of the Supreme Court, Irons (The Courage of Their Convictions, etc.) illustrates the beguiling legacy left by the Constitution's framers, who conjured up the high Court without providing an instruction manual. Irons is clear about where his ideological sympathy lies, calling Justice William Brennan "my judicial ideal and inspiration" and quoting Brennan's famous formulation that "the genius of the Constitution" rests in "the adaptability of its great principles to cope with current problems and current needs." Irons traces the development of the Court's peculiar institutional workings from its first proceedings under Chief Justice John Jay to the struggle for individual liberties during the successive Warren, Burger and Rehnquist Courts. In characterizing the Court as a bastion of racism, classism and sexism prior to Earl Warren's ascendancy, he often tends to use extended arguments when quick jabs would suffice. But as he delves into the personalities of litigants, justices and senators (who, as far back as 1831, fought fiercely over the confirmations of Supreme Court nominees), Irons proves himself a master of American legal and political history. He is particularly lucid when recounting how Reconstruction reforms, such as the Fourteenth Amendment, that were intended to ensure the liberties of individuals were co-opted by the Gilded Age Court to protect the liberties of business. Irons combines careful research with a populist passion. In doing so, he breathes abundant life into old documents and reminds readers that today's fiercest arguments about rights are the continuation of the endless American conversation. BOMC selection. (Aug.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

The publishers sales reps are finding much interest in this study by the director of the Earl Warren Bill of Rights Project at the University of California, San Diego.

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