A furious indictment of the Supreme Court as an accessory to the anti-democratic machinations of Gilded Age elites.
Anti-federalist author “Brutus” may have been right when he warned New Yorkers in 1788 that the Supreme Court, as laid out in the Constitution, would become a tool to neuter individual and minority rights, writes Goldstone (The Activist: John Marshall, Marbury v. Madison, and the Myth of Judicial Review, 2008, etc.). The author agrees that it is a defect of Article III that antidemocratic caprice in the high court is immune to democratic check. The author’s view of the Court shares much with Peter Irons’s A People’s History of the Supreme Court (1999), and he also focuses on the decisions of the Chase, Waite and Fuller courts, which undid federal guarantees of equal rights in the aftermath of the Civil War. Bracketed by Slaughter-House (1873) and Giles (1903), this series of decisions emasculated the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, dismantled Congress’s Reconstruction program, condoned the disenfranchisement and quasi-enslavement of the South’s African-American population and ushered in the era of oppressive Jim Crow laws. The text is marred by intrusive moralizing and epithetic vehemence, but the biographical sketches and case backgrounds are mostly well-drawn. However, readers’ confidence in Goldstone’s ability to balance economy and accuracy may be shaken by his misrepresentations of Justice Holmes as a Spencerian, Justice Miller as a hypocrite and Hamilton, Franklin and Darwin as racists.
A creditable condensation of a library of material into a dense 200-page narrative, which an annotated timeline would have helped untangle.