The Supreme Court and the American Elite, 1789-2020
Expanded Second Edition
Lucas A. Powe, Jr.
The Supreme Court and the American Elite, 1789–2020, Expanded Second Edition is a history of the Court placed within the context of a broader history of the United States and its politics. In contrast to a typical book on US history—where the Supreme Court appears, if at all, as an interruption here and there—or, in a typical history of the Supreme Court, where political events intrude occasionally, Lucas A. Powe, Jr., situates the Court and its work into a broad narrative of American history. Powe places the Court within the context of history and the insights of political science while remaining true to the ways the justices perceived their own work. Instead of viewing the Court as a competitor with the other two branches of government (although occasionally it is), Powe views it as a part of a ruling regime doing its part to implement the regimes policies. Some of its most historically controversial decisions are far less so when set within the politics of the time. Justices are, after all, as subject to the same economic, social, and intellectual currents as other upper-middle-class professional elites.
The book’s dominant theme is that the Court is a majoritarian institution—that is, it identifies with and serves ruling political coalitions. The justices are for the most part in tune with their times. Relatedly, changes in personnel matter; a president able to appoint several justices can, and does, change the direction of the Court. Thus, the Court and its decisions have moved to the center of presidential politics.
“This expanded edition could not be more welcome or timely as the United States focuses on the relationship between politics and the US Supreme Court. Powe’s book is an essential introduction to the history of the Court and US constitutional law, and it covers a tremendous amount of ground efficiently and with lively prose. It remains the best one-volume history of the Supreme Court.”
—Keith E. Whittington, author of Repugnant Laws: Judicial Review of Acts of Congress from the Founding to the Present
“Professor Powe extends his valuable history of the Supreme Court as a political institution to include the departures of Justices Kennedy and Scalia and the arrivals of their replacements. These developments confirm his overall theme that the Court is generally a place where partisan interests clash and are resolved pretty much along the lines that they are resolved in Congress and the presidency. Reading Powe’s work we can think about whether or how our current hyperpolarized politics will affect the Court over the next decade.”
—Mark Tushnet, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law, emeritus, Harvard Law School
“Anyone looking for a guide to the history of the Supreme Court will struggle to do better than this one. Powe pulls no punches in a work that is lively, insightful, and tremendous fun.”
—Mary Ziegler, Stearns Weaver Miller Professor, Florida State University College of Law, and author of Abortion and the Law in America: Roe v. Wade to the Present
“The Supreme Court and the American Elite, 1789–2020 is a lively and opinionated history of the US Supreme Court as a political institution. Powe delights in puncturing the pretensions of the Court with an energetic style that is as enlightening as it is entertaining.*#8212;”
—Jack M. Balkin, Yale Law School
“The expanded second edition of The Supreme Court and the American Elite is a timely and thought-provoking contribution to legal and political science scholarship on Court decision-making, surveying the Court’s decisions up through the 2019–2020 term. Powe writes accessibly and incisively about the Court’s landmark decisions and their place within the wider context of US culture and political discourse. Therefore, this expanded edition will interest not just academics and avid Court-watchers but also the broader public.”
—Ronald Kahn, James Monroe Professor of Politics and Law, emeritus, Oberlin CollegeSee fewer reviews...
This new edition adds two chapters detailing the history of the Court since 2008, including how the Court has changed election law, its entrance into the healthcare controversies, expansion of LBGTQ rights, and the 2020 Census controversies. The first new chapter looks at the centrist jurisprudence of Justice Anthony Kennedy and his dominant presence as the decisive vote in a series of 5–4 decisions. The second looks at the toxic partisan political climate in the aftermath of Justice Scalia’s death and Republican control of the Court.