THE ASCENT OF PRAGMATISM: The Burger Court in Action by Bernard Schwartz

THE ASCENT OF PRAGMATISM: The Burger Court in Action

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KIRKUS REVIEW

N.Y.U. law professor Schwartz (Super Chief 1983; Inside the Warren Court, 1983, with Stephan Lesher; Swann's Way, 1986) here offers a tedious but competent institutional history of the US Supreme Court during the term of Warren Burger as Chief Justice, 1969-86. With its focus on the inside workings of the nine Justices, the book is more a bureaucratic chronicle than a definitive history of the Burger Court. Schwartz presents a familiar interpretation of the Burger Court as having been consistently shaped by its dominant middle--the five pragmatic Justices (Blackmun, Stewart, White, Powell, and Stevens) who constantly and carefully mediated the extremes of liberals (Brennan, Marshall) and of conservatives (Burger, Rehnquist). Overall historically, Schwartz states, ""the Burger Court's main significance was its consolidation and continuation of the Warren heritage. Its role in this respect seems all the more important now that the Burger Court itself has given way to the Rehnquist Court."" While many expected 1969 Nixon-appointee Burger to lead a counter-revolution on the Court, the pragmatic middle--to the contrary--thwarted the Chief Justice's aims and actually effected a consolidation of the earlier Warren Court's legal revolution. Continuing the activist tradition, the Burger Court even expanded Warren rulings in such areas as criminal rights and judicial review (United States v. Nixon). It extended privacy rights to include abortion (Roe v. Wade). But, Schwartz states, whereas the activism of the Warren court was motivated by principles and a philosophy, only a ""rootless activism,"" subject to the willy-nilly vicissitudes of changing majority attitudes, guided the Burger Court. Nothing really new here for ardent court watchers, but buried beneath the repetitive, justifying style is much of overall interest, and the tidbits are many and fascinating--including the epicure Burger's fascination with rare wines. A fitting repast, then, in the fading Reagan era.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Addison-Welsey