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Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR's Great Supreme Court Justices
     

Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR's Great Supreme Court Justices

4.1 17
by Noah Feldman
 

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A tiny, ebullient Jew who started as America's leading liberal and ended as its most famous judicial conservative. A Klansman who became an absolutist advocate of free speech and civil rights. A backcountry lawyer who started off trying cases about cows and went on to conduct the most important international trial ever. A self-invented, tall-tale Westerner who

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Scorpions 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
MA_HAMBERGER More than 1 year ago
In late 1952,Justice Hugo Black announced in conference, that he would be voting in the Brown vs. Board of Education case to end segregation in the Topeka, Kansas, school system and thus by implication in school districts across the country. That this former Senator from Alabama, a son of the rural deep south, who had once joined the Ku Klux Klan in order to get elected to the US Senate, had come so far in just a quarter of a century to where he would now defy his beloved south and decide it was time to integrate public schools, can be ascribed to the flexibility of mind of this one man and to the incredible system put in place by the framers of our Constitution. Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR's Great Supreme Court Justices, by Noah Feldman, is the story of Black and three other brilliant men, appointed by Franklin Roosevelt to the Supreme Court. All four grew up in somewhat adverse conditions, and through native intelligence, hard work and a bit of luck, all reached positions of power and notoriety and left a legacy in American legal history. Aside from Black there was Felix Frankfurter, the scholar and teacher who could be irritatingly patronizing to anyone he considered below him in intellect - and in Frankfurter's view that meant practically everyone besides Oliver Wendell Holmes, whom he revered and Louis Brandeis who was his mentor and patron, until the two broke over Roosevelt's Court Packing Plan. There was William O. Douglas, whom his brethren considered nothing more than a politician and whose true goal to become President would have been realized if the conservative bosses of the Democratic party had not reversed the order of the top 2 names FDR favored to be his 1944 running mate (Harry Truman was FDR's second choice, but as a product of a big city political machine he was much more palatable to the party leadership than the maverick Douglas). Finally there was Robert Jackson, who many consider to be one of the three most gifted writers, along with Joseph Story and William Brennan to have sat on the Supreme Court. Like Black, Douglas and Jackson grew up in meager economic surrounding . Douglas was raised by a single mother in rural Washington State and Jackson grew up poor in a small town in Western New York. Frankfurter, who grew up in a middle class home was an immigrant from Austria who spoke no English until arriving in the United States at the age of 12. This book is the story of these four men, their relationship to Roosevelt, and to each other during the dozen or so years they served together and how each made a mark in history. It is insightful, well researched and well-written with poignancy - the author contends that it was only after Douglas' realization that by the early 1950's he no longer had a realistic chance of being president that he became resigned to a career on the Court and became the great champion of civil liberties; and humor - upon hearing of Chief Justice Vinson's death in 1953, Frankfurter, who despised Vinson, remarked to his law clerk, "For the first time, I have seen evidence that there is a God" . Anyone interested in the Supreme Court, FDR, the Great Depression, the 1930's or the US Constitution must - I repeat - must read this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well done in a fantastic easy to read and hard to put down way. As I am not a lawyer but do have a poli. sci. degree, I found this a great broad based seminar on many of the issues today in the courts, in particular with campaign finance. Really, a wonderful read fully explaining the personal and political impact on many of the most important people of the last 100 years.
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thewanderingjew More than 1 year ago
If truth be told, I did not read every word of this book. For the layman, the ordinary reader, there is simply too much detail. A history buff or scholar would be more inclined to do it justice. It was recommended to me by someone reading it for a course at the local college. It is better suited to a classroom with someone organizing and leading the discussion about Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s extended Presidency. The book is about the effect of his appointments to the Supreme Court, in his attempt to pack it in his favor to gain passage of his bills. He did not like to be opposed and it examines how he shaped the Court and its future. The working and personal relationships of the men appointed by FDR is discussed and explored. It is really interesting and not all that hard to read, but it is really difficult to remember the myriad details without an expert guide. It can honestly be remarked that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born with a silver spoon; he carefully planned his political life very early on. He married Eleanor, against his mother's wishes, for reasons of both love and ambition. He changed parties to win elections and in order not to compete with his distant cousin, Theodore Roosevelt. He always had high ambitions and eventually joined forces with Theodore, to reform the corrupt Democrats, but then after two years in the Senate, still green around the gills, he went to Washington to get more experience for his future as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury. He was a pragmatist, perhaps a bit mercenary, and did whatever was necessary to rise in the political world, changing parties for political advantage. As President, FDR created the first activist Supreme Court by appointing “good old boys” who would support his philosophy. He changed the court from a body strictly examining and interpreting the constitutionality of the law, to a body that interpreted and created it. He appointed Justices Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter, Robert Jackson and William O. Douglas, four men of completely diverse backgrounds and beliefs. The selection was based solely on political advantage. Roosevelt surrounded himself with men who would do his bidding rather than men of strong conviction. He did not want to deal with disapproval or dissent. However, the judges he appointed rarely got along and harbored long standing grudges against each other, bickering angrily when they convened. The book is timely in the sense that today we see a similar political and financial situation occurring. There has been a financial crisis. There is deep unemployment. There is a divided country that is suffering and demanding change. The world, at large, is in conflict and there are battles raging abroad. Coincidentally, we have a very progressive President who is once again trying to pack the Court and influence its decisions in ways not seen since FDR. He is lobbying the Supreme Court, even now, in an attempt to influence their decision on the Affordable Health Care Act. He dislikes criticism and does not like opposition, vowing to make judgments and issue orders to pass the policies he wishes even if he cannot get the Congress to support him. The intentional effort by Roosevelt to change the way in which the constitution was deliberated and judgments were delivered should give one pause. Should ideology effect the interpretation of the constitution? With the dramatic changes to the Supreme Court, under Roosevelt’s guidance, it surely did. In Charles Murray's recently published book, Coming Apart, it is noted that “Francis Grund, son of a German baron, published a two volume appraisal of the American experiment....in 1825, in which he states "no government could be established on the same principle as that of the United States, with a different code of morals"....."change the religious habits of Americans, their religious devotion, and their high respect for morality, and it will not be necessary to change a single letter of the Constitution in order to vary the whole form of their government." One has to wonder if our code of morals has not already changed and if other changes to affect our current form of government are not already in progress: is this the intention of the progressive movement today? Many questions arise as you read this book.