Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

A Storm over This Court: Law, Politics and Supreme Court Decision Making in Brown V. Board of Education

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

A Storm over This Court: Law, Politics and Supreme Court Decision Making in Brown V. Board of Education

Article excerpt

A Storm Over This Court: Law, Politics and Supreme Court Decision Making in Brown v. Board of Education. By Jeffrey D. Hockett. Constitutionalism and Democracy. (Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2013. Pp. [xii], 267. $39.50, ISBN 978-0-8139-3374-0.)

Jeffrey D. Hockett has written an excellent book about Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Hockett is a political scientist who writes in a historical mode. Consequently, at the center of his inquiry into Brown is the question of causation: What made the United States Supreme Court decide that the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibited segregated public schools? This is hardly uncharted territory, yet not only does Hockett make use of existing secondary sources, but he also returns to primary source materials, particularly the papers of the justices. His approach is historiographical. He evaluates the merits of the various theories that purport to explain why the case was decided the way it was. His conclusion is refreshingly ecumenical. While some theories of causation may be more convincing than others, Hockett ultimately concludes that a variety of factors influenced the justices' decision.

Hockett's first chapter recounts the doctrinal difficulties that the lawyers for the NAACP's Legal Defense and Educational Fund faced when they brought the case. In particular, he explains how traditional readings of both the Fourteenth Amendment's original intent and the precedents interpreting the amendment strongly suggested that school segregation was allowed by the Constitution. These facts suggest the book's central analytical question: If constitutional law, as it stood prior to the decision, did not dictate desegregation, what caused the justices to change the law? Hockett then proceeds to describe and critique several theories of causation. Perhaps the case reflected some of the justices' racially egalitarian ideological preferences. Maybe those justices without such preferences were brought on board through appeals to institutional/collegial loyalty or to their fears of racial unrest. Still others may have believed they were furthering more abstract principles embodied in American constitutionalism, such as the duty to protect Americans from irrational laws or to protect the interests of discrete and insular minorities. …

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