Monday, February 29, 2016

Review: The Supreme Court: The Personalities and Rivalries That Defined America

The Supreme Court: The Personalities and Rivalries That Defined America The Supreme Court: The Personalities and Rivalries That Defined America by Jeffrey Rosen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In four corners you have eight strong personalities that often times clashed and occasionally agreed on decisions that helped build the countries highest court into what it is today. Mr Rosen takes us to the beginning with John Marshall and Thomas Jefferson, cousins, who over time developed into strong opponents when it came to what they thought was right for the country. On one hand you have Marshall who was all about helping to build a strong national government that the states had to bow down to, on the other Mr Jefferson who was all about states rights. Mr. Rosen does a pretty good job at giving the story without any prejudices towards one opinion or the other.

Next up we have a good old' Conservative versus liberal battle, even though they were only on the court for ten years together; John Marshall Harlan and Oliver Wendell Holmes, roughly the same age and with different experiences with the Civil War; Harlan would come in after and help, whereas Holmes would get shot. I'm not trying to make light of that but that is the impression I got. What I found interesting is that Holmes went into the war as an abolitionist whereas Harlan was a slave owner. What I found even more interesting was that Holmes was all about social Darwinism, in other words, he was for weeding out the weak links in human society be it "imbeciles" as he put it or people of color. I find it ironic and hilarious that he is considered to be such a liberal icon, yet he has quite a bit of dirt in that closet of his. Harlan, on the other hand, was a huge proponent of ensuring that the 13, 14 and 15th ammendments to the constitution were enforced. I know it's weird hearing that Conservatives seem to be more for human and civil rights than most liberals in history, yet they are always looked upon as the neanderthals. All I do know is that Mr Holmes was pretty much a douche and a bad person, no matter how much people try to pretty him up.

Next we have a couple of liberal icons of the court who were great friends and sometimes rivals in how they viewed their life on the court; Hugo Black and William O Douglas. They both also served for well over 30 years, with Douglas serving for the longest of any justice when he retired due to poor health, although he did live for four more years after his retirement, unlike justice Black who died shortly after he retired. The one thing that stood out most here was the fact that justice Douglas liked them young, leaving one wife for a 23-year-old and then leaving her three years later for a 20-year-old.

Finally, we end with conservatives William Rehnquist and Antonin Scalia (who recently died in office). Again, we have two different personalities that drive these two justices, with Rehnquist being more of a team or consensus builder and Scalia as the outspoken constitutionalist or originalist that seemed to enjoy the stage the court gave him - he did like theater, after all. Rehnquist was an associate justice appointed by Nixon and as chief justice under president Reagan. Scalia breezed through the nomination process 98-0 whereas Rehnquist had much closer battles in the senate.

Overall it was a very entertaining listen - heck I listened to four hours of it while driving and didn't fall asleep, take that for what it's worth. If you like history and law and America, then you'll love this.

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