Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

A Constitutional History of the U.S. Supreme Court

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

A Constitutional History of the U.S. Supreme Court

Article excerpt

A Constitutional History of the U.S. Supreme Court. By Richard J. Regan. (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2015. Pp. [xii], 394. Paper, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-8132-2721-4.)

In A Constitutional History of the U.S. Supreme Court, Richard J. Regan, professor emeritus of political science at Fordham University, provides a concise overview and a general history of the nation's highest court. The intended audience is "general readers and students in courses on constitutional history and politics" (p. ix). Regan insists that the book is "not designed for lawyers or political scientists," which makes this a challenging review for me to write because I am a law professor with a Ph.D. in political science (p. ix).

The history of the U.S. Supreme Court is typically categorized by chief justice. Regan adheres to this convention in his book's organization, with the notable exceptions of the three Courts that preceded that of John Marshall (he refers to the John Jay, John Rutledge, and Oliver Ellsworth Courts as "The Federalist Court") and six Courts that he combines into three (the Salmon P. Chase and Morrison Waite Courts, the Edward Douglass White and William Howard Taft Courts, and the Harlan Fiske Stone and Frederick M. Vinson Courts). Each chapter begins with brief biographies of the justices on the particular Court in question (for example, for the Melville Fuller Court, the justices profiled range from the legendary Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. to the largely insignificant William Moody). These biographies are informative and full of interesting tidbits, but occasionally they omit important details. For example, Regan fails to mention that Ruth Bader Ginsburg served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit for more than a decade before her appointment to the Supreme Court, and that she was also a successful women's rights lawyer.

However, the bulk of each chapter is devoted to summaries of the leading decisions issued by the particular Court, and Regan has made appropriate choices about which leading decisions to include. These decisions are those typically addressed in constitutional criminal procedure courses, but their inclusion in Regan's book is appropriate given his intended audience. Regan credits the Federalist Court, for example, with only four leading decisions (Chisholm v. …

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