THE ANTAGONISTS: Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter and Civil Liberties in Modern America by James F. Simon

THE ANTAGONISTS: Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter and Civil Liberties in Modern America

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A joint biography of Justices Hugo Black and Felix Frankfurter that attempts to explain the impact of their professional--as well as personal--relationships on the development of the Supreme Court's decisions in the realm of civil liberties. In a style less chatty than that of Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong's The Brethren, Simon presents the machinations of the Court in an accessible, non-lawyerly style, but the book is generally weakened by the shallowness of its biographical sketches. The concentration here on the two principals inadvertently minimizes the important roles played by a number of other justices--including William O. Douglas, focus of a previous Simon biography (Independent Journey, 1980)--in the advancement of the Court's civil-liberties decisions. Meanwhile, however, Simon reveals the two jurists to be men of their time, both of whom succeeded in not only challenging but also changing that time. Frankfurter, the Jewish, Austrian-born, Harvard Law School Professor, was an outsider who used his intellect to lower the barriers placed in the way of many Americans during the early- and mid-20th century. Black was the senator from Alabama--the populist politician who successfully battled entrenched politicians and monopolies. While on the Supreme Court, the two justices, appointed by FDR during the late 30's, rose above their earlier political activities to represent the principal opposing judicial theories of the 20th century. A former member of the Ku Klux Klan, Black was in the vanguard of proponents of judicial activism in the defense of citizens' rights; Frankfurter, defender of Italian-American anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti and legal adviser to the A.C.L.U., had his commitment to civil rights overshadowed by his belief in judicial restraint. A credible mainstream biography that gives an interesting--though oversimplified--introduction to the Supreme Court from the late 1930's to the late 1960's.

Pub Date: Oct. 5th, 1989
Publisher: Simon & Schuster