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.
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