Center for American Progress senior constitutional policy analyst Millhiser assesses the damage caused by the Supreme Court to the Constitution, government and the citizens whose rights have repeatedly been curtailed or abrogated in arbitrary, capricious, bigoted and arrogant proceedings.
The author's historical approach presents justices and their cases in the context of the bloody disputes the nation's highest court was called to adjudicate. He examines how the court helped undermine the results of the Civil War and Reconstruction, as well as its role in stalling the adoption of the Civil Rights Act and other significant political reforms over the decades. Millhiser delineates the tradition from which current decision-making by the Roberts court arises, and he looks at how the court has reversed protections like the Voting Rights Act and obstacles to district gerrymandering. Intriguingly, the author claims that these actions, which reasserted the political primacy of Congress, were more responsible for securing change than the court's Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation decision of 1954. Millhiser shows that opponents of Brown were also enemies of the New Deal. He establishes continuity between advocates of enforced separation of the races—e.g., anti-Semite Justice James Clark McReynolds, who “refused to speak to Justice Louis Brandeis for Brandeis's first three years on the Court because Brandeis was Jewish”—and pro-slavery Chief Justice Melville Fuller, an embittered opponent of Abraham Lincoln and former aide to Stephen Douglas. Fuller's economic ideology helped produce such decisions as United States v. E.C. Knight Co., which limited the government’s ability to control monopolies, and Pollock v. Farmers' Loan & Trust Company, which exempted earnings on capital from federal taxation. Other decisions have prolonged child labor and the oppression of women while expanding arbitrary rights of ownership.
An impressive debut offering explanations based on coherence between people, cases and the events they adjudicated.