THE WARREN COURT AND THE PURSUIT OF JUSTICE by Morton J. Horwitz

THE WARREN COURT AND THE PURSUIT OF JUSTICE

A Critical Issue
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Less an introduction to the Warren Court than a paean to it. Harvard law professor Horwitz developed the material for this very short book through teaching an undergraduate course on the subject. The result has little to offer readers who are familiar with the constitutional struggles of the past few decades, but may be of some use for those needing a primer, especially high-school and college students with little knowledge of the law. Horwitz finds a common biographical thread among the liberals who dominated the Supreme Court in the 1950s and ’60s: Warren, Black, Douglas, Brennan, Goldberg, Fortas, and Marshall all came from “socially marginal” backgrounds, by reason of poverty, religion, or race. Without being reductionist, he contends that this psychological factor made the Warren Court majority more eager than previous courts to extend constitutional protection to racial, religious, and political minorities, criminal defendants, and the poor. It was the Warren Court that ruled school desegregation unconstitutional, applied the Bill of Rights to state criminal cases, compelled the states to apportion their legislatures on a “one-person, one-vote” basis, made dissent less dangerous by adopting Holmes’s “clear and present danger” test for political speech, discovered a constitutional right of privacy, made it virtually impossible to prosecute obscenity cases, greatly restricted libel actions, and found that welfare benefits were an entitlement rather than merely a privilege. However controversial these examples of judicial activism were (and still are), Horwitz’s approval of them is almost uncritical. Although he provides sympathetic analyses of Justice Frankfurter’s advocacy of judicial restraint and Justice Black’s departure from his liberal brethren over the issue of civil disobedience, Horwitz has produced a very narrow account of the Warren era. (He also, unfortunately, repeats the canard that Eisenhower traded the promise of a Supreme Court appointment for Warren’s support at the 1952 Republican Convention.)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8090-9664-1
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1998