Synopses & Reviews
From renowned political theorist and Pulitzer Prize winner James MacGregor Burns, an illuminating critique of how an unstable, unaccountable, and frequently partisan Supreme Court has come to wield more power than the founding fathers ever intended
For decades, James MacGregor Burns has been one of the great masters of the study of power and leadership in America. Now he turns his eye to an institution of government that he believes has become more powerful, and more partisan, than the founding fathers ever intendedathe Supreme Court. Much as we would like to believe that the Court remains aloof from ideological politics, Packing the Court reveals how often justices behave like politicians in robes.
Few Americans appreciate that the framers of the Constitution envisioned a much more limited role for the Supreme Court than it has come to occupy. In keeping with the foundersa desire for balanced government, the Constitution does not grant the Supreme Court the power of judicial reviewathat is, the ability to veto acts of Congress and the president. Yet throughout its history, as Packing the Court details, the Supreme Court has blocked congressional laws and, as a result, often derailed progressive reform. The term apacking the courta is usually applied to FDRas failed attempt to expand the size of the Court after a conservative bench repeatedly overturned key elements of the New Deal. But Burns shows that FDR was not the only president to confront a high court that seemed bent on fighting popular mandates for change, nor was he the only one to try to manipulate the bench for political ends. Many of our most effective leadersafrom Jefferson to Jackson, Lincoln to FDRa have clashed with powerful justices who refused to recognize the claims of popularly elected majorities. Burns contends that these battles have threatened the nationas welfare in the most crucial moments of our history, from the Civil War to the Great Depressionaand may do so again.
Given the erratic and partisan nature of Supreme Court appointments, Burns believes we play political roulette with the Constitution with each election cycle. Now, eight years after Bush v. Gore, ideological justices have the tightest grip on the Court in recent memory. Drawing on more than two centuries of American history, Packing the Court offers a clear-eyed critique of judicial rule and a bold proposal to rein in the Supreme Courtas power over the elected branches.
From renowned political theorist James MacGregor Burns, an incisive critique of the overreaching power of an ideological Supreme Court
For decades, Pulitzer Prize-winner James MacGregor Burns has been one of the great masters of the study of power and leadership in America. In Packing the Court, he turns his eye to the U.S. Supreme Court, an institution that he believes has become more powerful, and more partisan, than the founding fathers ever intended. In a compelling and provocative narrative, Burns reveals how the Supreme Court has served as a reactionary force in American politics at critical moments throughout the nation's history, and concludes with a bold proposal to rein in the court's power.
About the Author
James MacGregor Burns is the Woodrow Wilson Professor of Government Emeritus at Williams College and Distinguished Leadership Scholar at the James MacGregor Burns Academy of Leadership at the University of Maryland. He is the author of more than two dozen books, including Roosevelt: Soldier of Freedom, which won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and Leadership, which is considered a seminal work in the field of leadership studies.