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The Supreme Court from Taft to Burger

revised edition

296 pages / 5.50 x 8.50 inches / no illustrations

Legal History & Studies

  Paperback / 9780807104699 / September 1980

During the past half century the Supreme Court has been a storm center of controversy. Since 1920 the Court has shattered precedent after precedent and has leveled a number of social, political, and economic landmarks. This perceptive study of the Court during that period received much critical acclaim when it was published in 1958 and revised ten years later. In this third edition, Alpheus Thomas Mason, one of the country’s leading authorities on the Court, updates his survey to include some of the most dramatic events in its history. In a new preface, Mason sets the tone for his treatment of the Burger Court, saying, “One thing seems certain: never before has the Supreme Court put its constitutional fingers in so many social, cultural, and political pies. The irony is that four of its present members were elected as ‘strict constructionist.’”

Mason examines the dicta of various justices against the background of the times and the issues with which they were concerned: the judicial slaughter of legislation in the early thirties and Roosevelt’s retaliatory “courtpacking” attempt in 1937, judicially sanctioned federal interference in economic affairs, the bitterly contested integration decisions in 1954, and the explosive rulings of the 1960s supporting federal intervention in the fields of education, representation, and criminal justice.

Mason also covers Earl Warren’s resignation as Chief Justice, the Senate’s refusal to confirm Johnson’s nomination of Abe Fortas for Chief Justice and Fortas’ later resignation under political pressure, the failure of two Nixon nominees—Haynesworth and Carswell—to receive Senate endorsement, the impeachment proceedings initiated against William O. Douglas, Nixon’s avowal to reverse the Warren Court’s protection of civil rights and liberties by appointing a “law and order” Court, and the implications of the Stanford Daily and Bakke cases.

Professor Mason’s insight into the peculiar nature of the judicial function brings a deeper understanding of the Court as a creative force in American life. 

Alpheus Thomas Mason (1899–1989), was McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Emeritus, at Princeton University, where he received his doctorate. He is the author of a score of books on American political thought and constitutional law, including Brandeis: A Free Man’s Life, Harlan Fiske Stone: Pillar of the Law, William Howard Taft: Chief Justice, The Supreme Court: Palladium of Freedom,and, with William M. Beaney, The Supreme Court in a Free Society.

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