JUDGE FRANK M. JOHNSON, JR. by

JUDGE FRANK M. JOHNSON, JR.

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., went to Alabama nearly three years ago to write his Harvard senior thesis on historical and political developments in the South, and while that is not exactly what he has done, this is less a biography of Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr.--the man forced by illness to turn down appointment as FBI Director--than a survey of his judicial decisions, including ""some of the toughest racial questions to confront the state in the last two decades."" First comes the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, and Johnson, at 37 the youngest man on the federal bench, is part of a three-judge panel ruling segregation on buses illegal. In 1960, ho desegregates Alabama's voting facilities and, in 1965, he orders Governor George Wallace to protect participants in the Selma-to-Montgomery march. The ""bedrock of his character,"" says Kennedy, is Johnson's respect for the ""supremacy of the law,"" resulting in a judicial activism--first on civil rights, later in areas like mental hospital and prison reform--that puts him in direct confrontation with his old law-school friend, George Wallace (who ""fought him every step of the way""). But despite their conflicts and the landmark cases involved, there is little sense of drama here, and Johnson, limited to his public role, never comes alive. Hyperbole tends to substitute for judicious analysis (we are told, for instance, that Johnson made Alabama ""in some ways the most progressive state in the Union in the areas of human and civil rights""), leaving the book with nothing to convey behond Kennedy's obvious admiration for his subject.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1978
Publisher: Putnam