People’s History of the Supreme Court

Irons, Peter. A People’s History of the Supreme Court: The Men and Women whose Cases and Decisions Have Shaped Our Constitution. New York: Penguin Books, 1999.

Reason read: in celebration of the Constitution.

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. What year are we in now? Aren’t we still battling against racial discrimination? Aren’t we still fighting for free speech and women’s rights? What’s that saying? The more things change, the more they stay the same? 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. Sound familiar? 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. Isn’t that special?
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.

Author fact: Peter Irons called Howard Zinn a mentor. Additionally, Irons was arrested in 1963 for refusing to serve in the military. If you were a conscientious objector, you had to have a religion to cite as your reason for not fighting.

Book trivia: for the longest time A People’s History of the Supreme Court has been used as a law and history textbook across the country.

Nancy said: Pearl called A People’s History of the Supreme Court “readable” (p 136).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Legal Eagles in Nonfiction” (p 135).



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