The Supreme Court

An Essential History

Second Edition

Peter Charles Hoffer, Williamjames Hull Hoffer, and N. E. H. Hull

For more than two centuries, the U.S. Supreme Court has provided a battleground for nearly every controversial issue in our nation’s history. Now a veteran team of talented historians—including the editors of the acclaimed Landmark Law Cases and American Society series—have updated the most readable, astute single-volume history of this venerated institution with a new chapter on the Roberts Court.

The Supreme Court chronicles an institution that dramatically evolved from six men meeting in borrowed quarters to the most closely watched tribunal in the world. Underscoring the close connection between law and politics, the authors highlight essential issues, cases, and decisions within the context of the times in which the decisions were handed down. Deftly combining doctrine and judicial biography with case law, they demonstrate how the justices have shaped the law and how the law that the Court makes has shaped our nation, with an emphasis on how the Court responded—or failed to respond—to the plight of the underdog.

“Praise for the first edition:

This splendid interpretative summary of the history of the U.S. Supreme Court is designed for students and the general public. It is an effective textbook for American constitutional history courses and contains many insights of interest to professional historians. . . . Readers will find apt analysis and enjoyable prose in this fine book.”

Journal of American History

“[It] may well be the best single volume history of the Court. . . . on the whole, balanced and brings together an extraordinary amount of material.”

Political Science Quarterly
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Each chapter covers the Court’s years under a specific Chief Justice, focusing on cases that are the most reflective of the way the Court saw the law and the world and that had the most impact on the lives of ordinary Americans. Throughout the authors reveal how—in times of war, class strife, or moral revolution—the Court sometimes voiced the conscience of the nation and sometimes seemed to lose its moral compass. Their extensive quotes from the Court’s opinions and dissents illuminate its inner workings, as well as the personalities and beliefs of the justices and the often-contentious relationships among them.

Fair-minded and sharply insightful, The Supreme Court portrays an institution defined by eloquent and pedestrian decisions and by justices ranging from brilliant and wise to slow-witted and expedient. An epic and essential story, it illuminates the Court’s role in our lives and its place in our history in a manner as engaging for general readers as it is rigorous for scholars.

About the Author

Peter Charles Hoffer is Distinguished Research Professor of History at the University of Georgia. Williamjames Hull Hoffer is professor of history at Seton Hall University. N. E. H. Hull is Distinguished Professor of Law (emerita) at Rutgers University Law School–Camden.