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The Great Chief Justice: John Marshall and the Rule of Law (American Political Thought)by Charles F Hobson
Synopses & Reviews
John Marshall remains one of the towering figures in the landscape of American law. From the Revolution to the age of Jackson, he played a critical role in defining the "province of the judiciary" and the constitutional limits of legislative action. In this masterly study, Charles Hobson clarifies the coherence and thrust of Marshall's jurisprudence while keeping in sight the man as well as the jurist.
Hobson argues that contrary to his critics, Marshall was no ideologue intent upon appropriating the lawmaking powers of Congress. Rather, he was deeply committed to a principled jurisprudence that was based on a steadfast devotion to a "science of law" richly steeped in the common law tradition. As Hobson shows, such jurisprudence governed every aspect of Marshall's legal philosophy and court opinions, including his understanding of judicial review.
The chief justice, Hobson contends, did not invent judicial review (as many have claimed) but consolidated its practice by adapting common law methods to the needs of a new nation. In practice, his use of judicial review was restrained, employed almost exclusively against acts of the state legislatures. Ultimately, he wielded judicial review to prevent the states from undermining the power of a national government still struggling to establish sovereignty at home and respect abroad.
No chief justice and only one associate justice (William Douglas) served longer on the Supreme Court. But, as Hobson clearly shows, Marshall's deserved place in the pantheon of great American jurists rests far more upon principles than longevity. This book better than any other tells us why that's true and worthy of our attention.
"A well-worn anecdote about John Marshall, whose 34 years as chief justice of the United States Supreme Court make him the longest ever to hold that post, concerns the use of legal authorities and precedent cases. Marshall is reported to have reached his own conclusion on a particularly difficult case without reference to any previous decisions. His conclusion was merely an assertion, made to Associate Justice Joseph Story with the declaration: 'Now, Story, that is the law: you find the precedents for it.' On such commentary was built Marshall's reputation as a practical judge, unencumbered by the weight of legal scholarship. But the impression left by the anecdote is false, according to Charles Hobson, documentary historian and expert in early American statecraft. He argues that far from being an untutored pragmatist, Marshall was a master of the common law tradition. His judicial opinions were an attempt to synthesize that tradition and engraft it onto the structure of constitutional government that required an independent judiciary. As history has shown, Marshall was largely successful, and Hobson's study should succeed in restoring one feature of the reputation of the man known as 'the great chief justice.'" Reviewed by Andrew Witmer, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
"A fresh and exacting perspective on the ever-fascinating interplay between politics and the law. No student of our legal history, lay or professional, should miss this book". — Edwin M. Yoder, Jr., Washington Post Writers Group. "A learned, lucid, and insightful work that will be welcomed by a wide audience". — Noble E. Cunningham, Jr., author of The Presidency of James Monroe. "This excellent work is strongly recommended". — Library journal.
Table of Contents
1. Republican Revolutionary
2. The Common Law Background
3. The Province of the Judiciary: Marbury v. Madison
4. Property Rights and the Contract Clause
5. National Supremacy and States' Rights
6. The Limits of Judicial Power
7. Principle, Precedent, and Interpretation
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