Division and Discord: The Supreme Court under Stone and Vinson, 1941-1953

Division and Discord: The Supreme Court under Stone and Vinson, 1941-1953

by Melvin I. Urofsky
     
 

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Division and Discord offers a comprehensive appraisal of the Supreme Court during the fractious period that bridged the court-packing fight of the Hughes years and the rights explosion of the Warren era. During the dozen years that Melvin I. Urofsky reviews in this volume, the Court ruled on a range of controversial cases, including the internment of the Japanese, the… See more details below

Overview

Division and Discord offers a comprehensive appraisal of the Supreme Court during the fractious period that bridged the court-packing fight of the Hughes years and the rights explosion of the Warren era. During the dozen years that Melvin I. Urofsky reviews in this volume, the Court ruled on a range of controversial cases, including the internment of the Japanese, the guilt of the Rosenbergs, and the crimes of Nazi saboteurs. At the same time the judicial body struggled internally to balance the strong wills of some of the most important figures in U.S. judicial history - Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter, William O. Douglas, and Robert M. Jackson. Urofsky contends that these years play a critical role in modern constitutional history, not merely as a colorful interlude between two better-known eras of Supreme Court history but also as a period that signaled a fundamental upheaval in U.S. jurisprudence - the shift in focus from the protection of private property to the protection of individual liberties. Urofsky analyzes the cases brought before the Stone and Vinson Courts and underscores the difficulty of the issues faced by the judicial body during this period of war, cold war, economic growth, and social turmoil. Of perhaps even greater significance, he reveals the severity of personality clashes among the justices. He details how Chief Justices Harlan Fiske Stone and Fred M. Vinson proved unable to lead a court divided by four towering personalities. Urofksy credits Black, Douglas, Frankfurter, and Jackson, rather than Stone or Vinson, with delineating jurisprudential debates of the period.

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Editorial Reviews

Harold J. Spaeth
This book is a conventional history of the Stone and Vinson Courts. It is one of a series on Chief Justiceships of the U.S. Supreme Court under the general editorship of Herbert A. Johnson. For those unacquainted with this period or for those who want a convenient reference, Urofsky's work is adequate. Although the author references his material to the full range of existing legal and historical sources -- including the private papers of Black, Burton, Douglas, Frankfurter, Jackson, Reed, Rutledge, and Stone -- he totally omits scientific work from his purview. One perhaps should not expect more from a constitutional historian. But the price, of course, is a rehash. Urofsky merely recounts the story of these two Courts without the benefit of a new or fresh analysis. Given its limited focus, the book contains little about which to cavil. Urofsky opens his preface with the statement that "The period between the great Constitutional crisis of 1937 and the ascension of Earl Warren to the chief justiceship in 1937 is not one that has received a great deal of attention." Excluding the basically hagiographic biographies, one can point to Pritchett's two books and that of Palmer as evidence to the contrary. Urofsky, however, appears to have no particular axe to grind. He is willing to make unflattering references to his subjects, Frankfurter especially. Thus, "Like his friend and ally, William O. Douglas, Black had little use for precedent" (p. 17); Frankfurter's rage at the failure of the other justices to follow his lead often turned splenetic. . . . Frankfurter sometimes addressed Murphy as 'Dear God'" (p. 34); "Within the Court, Frankfurter's temper grew shorter and his invective more vitriolic. He began to talk about 'enemies' on the bench . . . He referred derisively to Black, Douglas, and Murphy as 'the Axis'" (p. 40); "By the end of the war the normal level of polite give-and-take within the Court had been poisoned by the ongoing feuding among Frankfurter, Roberts, and Jackson on one side and Black, Douglas, and Murphy on the other" (p. 137). Urofsky begins his chronicle with brief characterizations of the Stone Court justices. He follows it with chapters on the Court at war, the expansion of individual rights, the federal system, the transition from war to peace, the Cold War, rights of labor, incorporation and due process, and the road to Brown. Of these, I found the chapter on the federal system the best. Brandeis' labors to lessen the incidence of forum shopping finally bore fruit in Erie Railroad v. Tompkins (1938). On the other hand, Erie's impact has subsequently been vitiated by federal statutes that have superseded state laws in many areas and by state adoption of proposals by the Commission on Uniform State Laws, most notably the UCC. Urofsky also nicely treats the Court's application of the full faith and credit clause to the quickie divorces of Nevada and Florida. In sum, this well-written book has utility for students and lay persons curious about the history of the Stone and Vinson Courts. Its value for political scientists is, however, minimal. REFERENCES ERIE RAILROAD V. TOMPKINS. 1938. 304 U.S. 64. Palmer, Jan. 1990. THE VINSON COURT ERA. New York: AMS Press. Pritchett, C. Herman. 1948. THE ROOSEVELT COURT. New York: Macmillan. _______. 1954. CIVIL LIBERTIES AND THE VINSON COURT. Chicago:University of Chicago.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781570031205
Publisher:
University of South Carolina Press
Publication date:
04/15/1997
Series:
Chief Justiceships of the United States Series
Pages:
289
Product dimensions:
6.28(w) x 9.32(h) x 1.07(d)

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