A People's History of the Supreme Court: The Men and Women Whose Cases and Decisions Have Shaped Our Constitution

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A People's History of the Supreme Court: The Men and Women Whose Cases and Decisions Have Shaped Our Constitution

Author: Peter Irons
Publisher: Penguin
Copyright: 1999
Pages: 576
Cover Price: $ 19.00

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The savvy, chatty author of The Courage of Their Convictions brings us a scholarly reckoning of the 200-plus years of decisions made by the highest court in the land. Not surprisingly (and justifiably, given his erudite arguments), Peter H. Irons represents the court's work as a never-ending appeal of the powerless to the powerful: of the just over 100 supreme justices who have sat on the court, all but two have been white, all but two have been men, and all but seven have been Christian, whereas the supplicants to our nation's highest bar are typically racial minorities, women, and deviants in some way from the religious and social mainstream.

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.) --Paul Hughes

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Background Information

The Supreme Court is the highest judicial body in the country, and judges the actions of citizens and governments alike on the basis of the Constitution. All justices of the Supreme Court have a single vote in decisions and all but the Chief Justice are known as Associate Justices. In the Dred Scott decision, the US Supreme Court outraged opinion in the North by interpreting slaveholding rights as extending anywhere, including free states. After the outbreak of World War II, anti-Japanese feeling was intense on the West Coast and Japanese-Americans were interned for the duration of the conflict. The Constitution of the United States was originally crafted by debate and compromise at the Philadelphia convention of 1787.