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Packing the Court: The Rise of Judicial Power and the Coming Crisis of the Supreme Court

Packing the Court: The Rise of Judicial Power and the Coming Crisis of the Supreme Court

Written by James Macgregor Burns

Narrated by Norman Dietz


Packing the Court: The Rise of Judicial Power and the Coming Crisis of the Supreme Court

Written by James Macgregor Burns

Narrated by Norman Dietz

ratings:
4/5 (8 ratings)
Length:
9 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Jul 9, 2009
ISBN:
9781400182114
Format:
Audiobook

Editor's Note

In the news…

This clear-eyed critique of the politicization of the court emphasizes the ways partisan nominations hamper the judicial prudence of the court, and the fate of the country.

Description

For decades, James MacGregor Burns has been one of the great masters of the study of power and leadership in America. Now he turns his eye to an institution of government that he believes has become more powerful-and more partisan-than the Founding Fathers ever intended: the Supreme Court. Much as we would like to believe that the Court remains aloof from ideological politics, Packing the Court reveals how often justices behave like politicians in robes.



Few Americans appreciate that the framers of the Constitution envisioned a much more limited role for the Supreme Court than it has come to occupy. In keeping with the founders' desire for balanced government, the Constitution does not grant the Supreme Court the power of judicial review-that is, the ability to veto acts of Congress and the president. Yet throughout its history, as Packing the Court details, the Supreme Court has blocked congressional laws and, as a result, often derailed progressive reform.



The term packing the court is usually applied to FDR's failed attempt to expand the size of the Court after a conservative bench repeatedly overturned key elements of the New Deal. But Burns shows that FDR was not the only president to confront a high court that seemed bent on fighting popular mandates for change, nor was he the only one to try to manipulate the bench for political ends. Many of our most effective leaders-from Jefferson to Jackson, Lincoln to FDR-have clashed with powerful justices who refused to recognize the claims of popularly elected majorities. Burns contends that these battles have threatened the nation's welfare in the most crucial moments of our history, from the Civil War to the Great Depression-and may do so again.



Given the erratic and partisan nature of Supreme Court appointments, Burns believes we play political roulette with the Constitution with each election cycle. Now, eight years after Bush v. Gore, ideological justices have the tightest grip on the Court in recent memory. Drawing on more than two centuries of American history, Packing the Court offers a clear-eyed critique of judicial rule and a bold proposal to rein in the Supreme Court's power over the elected branches.
Publisher:
Released:
Jul 9, 2009
ISBN:
9781400182114
Format:
Audiobook

About the author

James MacGregor Burns (1918–2014) was a bestselling American historian and political scientist whose work earned both the National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize. Born in Boston, Burns fell in love with politics and history at an early age. He earned his BA at Williams College, where he returned to teach history and political science after obtaining his PhD at Harvard and serving in World War II. Burns’s two-volume biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt is considered the definitive examination of the politician’s rise to power, and his groundbreaking writing on the subject of political leadership has influenced scholars for decades. Most recently, he served as the Woodrow Wilson Professor of Government Emeritus at Williams College and as Distinguished Leadership Scholar at the University of Maryland. 


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4.1
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Critic reviews

  • As Judge Kavanaugh faces multiple allegations of sexual misconduct in the midst of his controversial confirmation hearing, all eyes are on the Supreme Court. This clear-eyed critique of the politicization of the court emphasizes the ways partisan nominations hamper the judicial prudence of the court, and the fate of the country.

    Scribd Editors

Reader reviews

  • (4/5)
    This is an intentionally opinionated history of the Supreme Court of the United States of America.Burns brings his considerable historical knowledge and literary skill to bear on what has sometimes been the most respected institution in American government, and at other times derided as partisan and backward-looking. As he traces its development from the words in the Constitution and the brilliant, energetic, ambitious, and forward-thinking John Marshall, through to today's Roberts Court, it becomes clear that Burns considers the latter view to be correct for most of the Court's history.Certain bad Court decisions, such as Dred Scott, are well known, and I have a strong interest in American history. Despite that, I found much of the surprisingly sordid history of Court decisions turning the meaning even of the 14th and 15th Amendments on their heads, inventing a distinction between state and national citizenship, and applying "due process" and other procedural and substantive rights almost entirely to property and the regulation of economic activity, and reducing civil rights of individuals to almost nothing, to be a revelation.The interplay between politics and the Court, and the persistent conservatism of the Court over decades and generations, even in the face of true national crises like the Great Depression, is disturbing and disheartening. When he reaches the Warren Court, Burns is in some respects downright gleeful, but also aware that it is the flip side of the intransigent Court that opposed Franklin Roosevelt's efforts to create legislation and take action that would alleviate and reverse the Great Depression. In both eras, the personalities and political views of the Justices, rather than the myth of dispassionate, high-minded jurisprudence,As we proceed forward from the Warren Court to the current Roberts Court, once again a conservative Court with an easy willingness to strike down as "unconstitutional" progressive legislation, Burns begins to lay out the polemical purpose of this book. He argues that the power of the Court to strike down legislation and to be the final arbiter of Constitutionality in all things, is unfounded in the Constitution or any supporting evidence of the intentions of the Founders, and that it has done more harm than good, threatening the foundations of democracy. His proposed solutions will sound radical to many, and certainly don't entirely agree with him myself. Nevertheless, even as a polemicist, Burns remains calm, rational, clear, and thoughtful, and this is an argument well worth reading and considering.Recommended.I borrowed this book from the library.
  • (3/5)
    this was an excellent book I really liked it! a lot
  • (5/5)
    very nice apps I love this apps every body used this apps
  • (4/5)
    It was an excellent review about how Congress and particularly the President has tried to influence the US Supreme Court, and not always successfully. Also, it includes some radical suggestions about how the Supreme Court might be reorganized to make it both more independent and less political. Definitely worth reading!
  • (4/5)
    Packing the Court: The Rise of Judicial Power and the Coming Crisis of the Supreme Courtby James MacGregor Burns, 2009The confirmation hearings of Sonia Sotomayor raise again the debate about so-called judicial activism and the role of the judiciary, specifically the Supreme Court, in our national and state governments. The Republicans again decried judicial activism, their unstated target decisions such as Roe v. Wade. The Democrats gushed and fawned over Sotomayor, and failed to probe and test her legal reasoning in the same manner they probed Alito and Roberts, thus doing a disservice to Americans.The hearings make Packing the Court by historian James MacGregor Burns, professor of government at Williams College, especially relevant. Packing the Court is a well-written and fascinating history of Supreme Court politics, and it reminds us that complaints about judicial activism are as old as the constitution. George Washington attempted to pack the Supreme Court with justices sympathetic to his politics. John Marshall was a thorn in Jefferson's side, and Marbury v. Madison made the third president livid, so much so that he ordered his attorneys to give no credence to the decision. Abraham Lincoln battled Justice Roger Taney, who doomed America with the Dred Scott decision. All the while Congress raised and lowered the number of justices, all with the intent of depriving certain presidents the opportunities to appoint justices.MacGregor shows us that the judicial activism that today’s conservatives decry was very much a creation of the conservatives themselves, originally used to support slavery and later to strike down state regulation of business. After the Civil War, conservative Republican judges eviscerated the 14th Amendment in order to allow southern states to maintain Jim Crow laws, arguing that it was for the states to decide the rights of their citizens. With the Slaughterhouse Cases, conservative justices deflated the privileges and immunities clause of the 14th Amendment, despite the 14th Amendment’s clear intent to create national rather than state citizenship. Conservative justices then argued that sates had no right to regulate commerce, and created a body of law called “economic substantive due process” to strike down state attempts to regulate working conditions, eliminate child labor, and bring relief to farmers and workers suffering under the railroads and corporations during the Gilded Age. The result was Lochner v. New York, a shameful decision in which Justice Rufus Peckham wrote laissez faire economics into the constitution, prompting Oliver Wendall Holmes to lament: “this case is decided upon an economic theory which a large part of the country does not entertain.” (So shameful is the decision that even today when we accuse judges of activism, we accuse them of “Lochnerizing.”)Lochner became the basis to frustrate national and state attempts to empower unions, to regulate working conditions, and to stabilize the effects of boom and bust economic cycles. Conservative justices thwarted state legislation at every turn, striking down any law that affected progressive reform. Theodore Roosevelt became so enraged at conservative recalcitrance and entrenchment that he made the Supreme Court the focus of his 1904 campaign and called for a national referendum on Supreme Court decisions that offended the American people.The turning point came as Franklin Roosevelt battled with “the Four Horsemen” of the Court, four conservative justices determined to frustrate Roosevelt’s New Deal. Roosevelt conceived a disastrous plan to increase the court to 12 justices, thus “packing the court.” The plan fell with a dull thud in American politics, but the court saw the handwriting on the wall. In Carolene Products, in the famous footnote 4, the justices signaled that now substantive due process would be applied to civil liberties and to protect fundamental rights, and with West Coast Hotel, the age of Lochner came to an end and the New Deal sailed ahead. Armed with a new substantive due process, the Court now found within the constitution certain rights: the right to privacy and equal protection of the laws, making possible Griswold and Roe, which conservatives now deride and lament.Burns’ book is accessible to the non-lawyer and avoids minutia. He places major decisions within the context of American history without legal jargon. This is a work of history, an examination of the court’s role in American government not a history of its rulings or ever-changing doctrines. Burns’ thesis is that judicial review is a travesty, a power giving 9 people the final veto and say over the states and Congress, often frustrating the will of the people. No surprise here. My professors in law school decried the same. But judicial review has been engrained in American government for almost 200 years. The Departmentalism in which each branch interprets the constitution for itself Burns advocates may be unworkable, and as past administrations have shown, an invitation for mischief. Nevertheless, Burns gives us an excellent history of the problem of judicial review and it is an invaluable tool for discussing the problem in the public sphere.