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The Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren was the most revolutionary and controversial Supreme Court in American history. But in what sense? Challenging the reigning consensus that the Warren Court, fundamentally, was protecting minorities, Lucas Powe revives the valuable tradition of looking at the Supreme Court in the wide political environment to find the Warren Court a functioning partner in Kennedy-Johnson liberalism. Thus the Court helped to impose national liberal-elite values on groups that were outliers to that tradition--the white South, rural America, and areas of Roman Catholic dominance.
In a learned and lively narrative, Powe discusses over 200 significant rulings: the explosive Brown decision, which fundamentally challenged the Southern way of life; reapportionment (one person, one vote), which changed the political balance of American legislatures; the gradual elimination of anti-Communist domestic security programs; the reform of criminal procedures (Mapp, Gideon, Miranda); the ban on school-sponsored prayer; and a new law on pornography.
Most of these decisions date from 1962, when those who shaped the dominant ideology of the Warren Court of storied fame gained a fifth secure liberal vote. The Justices of the majority were prominent individuals, brimming with confidence, willing to help shape a revolution and see if it would last.
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Lucas A. Powe, Jr., holds the Anne Green Regents Chair at the University of Texas, where he teaches in the School of Law and the Department of Government.Review:
Mr. Powe describes himself as someone who 'worshipped' the Warren Court. Even so, he portrays it impartially as the super-legislature it often resembled--an outcome-directed body that rarely worried about constitutional theory or precedent...The court set into motion a philosophy of political activism--heedless of constitutional doctrine--that has become, for many judges ever since, almost a way of life. This cannot be a good thing, however much we might applaud some of the Warren court's rulings or the good intentions that lay behind them. Admirably, especially for someone still enthralled by the Warren Court, Mr. Powe seems to recognize this. (Jay P. Lefkowitz Wall Street Journal)
[Powe's] book would be of considerable interest to students of the judiciary even if its sole virtue were the deftness with which Powe organizes and analyzes the unusually large number of important decisions that the Supreme Court rendered during the controversial tenure of Chief Justice Earl Warren. In this respect, Powe is deserving of comparison to such eminent chroniclers of the Court's history as Henry Abraham, Alfred Kelly, and Winfred Harbison. The book's purpose, however, is as ambitious as its scope...A comprehensive (and accessible) history of the Warren Court. (Jeffrey D. Hockett Jurist: Books-on-Law)
An intriguing...history of the path-breaking, even revolutionary, court under Chief Justice Earl Warren in the 1950s and 1960s. Rarely for a constitutional scholar, Powe places the Warren court's most famous cases in their political context...[in] a colorful tale. The liberal Warren court's decisions on race, crime, religion, free speech and obscenity startled, delighted or outraged contemporaries and had a far-reaching impact on American politics and society. (The Economist 2000-10-07)
In an important book, Lucas A. Powe, Jr. argues that the familiar debate about the merits of the Warren Court is, in fact, wrong. Far from being a group of liberal judicial activists who imposed their views on an unwilling nation, Powe argues, the Warren Court was, for much of its tenure, remarkably deferential to the political branches...Powe persuasively argues that the most important decision of...[the Warren Court] can be justified as an effort to unclog, rather than to thwart, the expression of majority will. (Jeffrey Rosen New Republic 2000-11-06)
A thorough and enlightening [read]. (Mary Carroll Booklist)
Purely legal analysis emphasizes the logical links, or absence of them, between the questions raised in two or more cases and the answers given to them. Purely political analysis relies on social history as an explanation for judicial decisions. A more complete picture results, as Powe argues, from a combination of the two...Powe has done his non-psychological homework, however, and he presents new material resulting from research about Brennan, Tom Clark, and Douglas...he suggests that the Court 'was not worrying about Constitutional theory but rather reaching results that conformed to the values that enjoyed significant national support in the mid-1960s.' His well-researched and lively volume presents strong evidence that he is correct. (Philippa Strum The Journal of American History)
The Warren Court and American Politics is a spectacularly good book. Written for an audience of educated non-lawyers, it provides the best available account of the relationship between the Warren Court's liberalism and American politics during the entire period of Earl Warren's tenure...It retrieves the nearly forgotten period of stalemate. Its argument that the South must be seen at the center of the Warren Court's work in free speech, religion, and criminal procedure illuminates the Court's enterprise better than any other account of which I am aware. (Mark V. Tushnet Texas Law Review)
Challenging the reigning consensus that the Warren Court fundamentally protected minorities, this book examines the Supreme Court in a wider political environment. Powe argues that the Court was a functioning partner in Kennedy-Johnson liberalism and thus helped impose national liberal-elite values on groups that were outliers to that tradition. (Law and Social Inquiry)
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