Worth Reading: Supreme Power - FDR versus the Supreme Court

lundi 7 juin 2010 ·

A few years ago, I was charmed by the reading of Empire of Liberty by Gordon S.Wood concerning the early history of the United States of America. I especially enjoyed the introduction he provided to the issue of the Supreme Court and Judicial Review. With an amazing talent, he related the conflicts between the federalists on the Supreme Court and the jeffersonians who thought the Supreme Court was overriding the will of the people.

With similar talent and notwithstanding his political bias (he was a speechwriter in the Clinton Administration), author Jeff Shesol relates the conflicts between the Supreme Court and democratic president Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He paints an amazing biography of all of the nine justices and how each of everyone of them had come to develop their judicial thinking. After setting the stage of the Great Depression, he jumps in all the cases that saw the administration and the Supreme Court clash over. From the famous unanimous verdict of the Schecter Brothers that invalidated the National Industrial Recovery Act to the Butler case that invalidated the Agricultural Adjustment Act, Shesol forgets nothing.

What is most interesting is the struggle between the branches of government especially as FDR attemps to pack the court with new justices. It reminds us that government is always a question of balance between different branches of power and that no one branch should be seen as superior to the other. For example, it might be true that the USSC ended up invalidating the NIRA and the AAA that have been blamed for the lenghtening of the Great Depression, however some of the same justices on the Supreme Court were amongst those who upheld law forcing sterilization of "the feeble-minded"(Buck v Bell).

Shesol in a way reminds us that government is always a question of striking a balance between powers but also that powers will shift with time and other powers will react to maintain it. A magnificantly written book full of interesting little facts. Worth reading indeed...

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Bryan Breguet est candidat au doctorat en sciences économiques à l’université de Colombie-Britannique. D’origine Suisse, il a passé les cinq dernières années au Québec au cours desquelles il s’est engagé en politique provinciale malgré le fait qu’il ne possédait pas encore la citoyenneté canadienne. Il détient un B.Sc en économie et politique ainsi qu’une maitrise en sciences économiques de l’université de Montréal. Récipiendaire de plusieurs prix d’excellences et bourses, il connaît bien les méthodes quantitatives et leurs applications à la politique.

Vincent Geloso holds a master’s degree in economic history from the London School of Economics, with a focus on business cycles, international development, labor markets in preindustrial Europe and the new institutional economics. His research work examined the economic history of the province of Quebec from 1920 to 1960. He holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science from the Université de Montréal. He has also studied in the United States at the Washington Centre for Academic Seminars and Internships. Mr. Geloso has been an intern for the Prime Minister’s cabinet in Ottawa and for the National Post. He has also been the recipient of a fellowship from the Institute for Humane Studies and an international mobility bursary from the Ministère des Relations internationales du Québec. Currently, he is an economist at the Montreal Economic Institute.

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