Thursday, October 28, 2010
Scorpions – the title references a description of the Supreme Court Justices as “nine scorpions in a bottle” – is the story of four widely different justices all appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt. These four, Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter, Robert Jackson and William O. Douglas could not have been more dissimiliar. Frankfurter, a Jew was perhaps the most liberal voice in the country when Roosevelt appointed him to the court. Black was a southern country lawyer former KKK member with an altogether unique interpretation of the constitution, Jackson, a plain spoken lawyer seeking a pragmatic resolution to court cases and Douglas, a westerner who defined wide limits for individual freedom. I enjoyed the detail and back story the author presented on all of these men. The intellectual growth that allowed these men to listen, learn and change their minds from where they started was so appealing in this story. Black from a KKK member to perhaps the strongest civil rights supporter on the court. Frankfurter from the most liberal to arguably the most conservative member of the court. I was fascinated at how men of such widely divergent backgrounds could come together to decide some of the most important issues of the twentieth century. The background of the Japanese internment in WWII, Truman’s seizure of the steel mills, civil rights and lastly the Brown v. the Board of Education decisions are all covered with the deliberations and interactions that led to the court decisions. Personalities are on full display. I admit much of the legal theories were lost on me and did for me (the clearly non legal reader) drag out the story a bit but I still enjoyed this book as a history of the Supreme Court and the justices who served there. In today’s acrimonious political environment one really longs for the time when disagreements were discussed, debated and had compromises developed that moved the country forward. A good narrative history of the Supreme Court in the mid twentieth century.
I have three copies of SCORPIONS for a giveaway, if you would like to participate, click here.