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The Will of the People: How Public Opinion Has Influenced the Supreme Court and Shaped the Meaning of the Constitution

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In recent years, the justices of the Supreme Court have ruled definitively on such issues as abortion, school prayer, and military tribunals in the war on terror. They decided one of American history’s most contested presidential elections. Yet for all their power, the justices never face election and hold their offices for life. This combination of influence and apparent In recent years, the justices of the Supreme Court have ruled definitively on such issues as abortion, school prayer, and military tribunals in the war on terror. They decided one of American history’s most contested presidential elections. Yet for all their power, the justices never face election and hold their offices for life. This combination of influence and apparent unaccountability has led many to complain that there is something illegitimate—even undemocratic—about judicial authority. In The Will of the People, Barry Friedman challenges that claim by showing that the Court has always been subject to a higher power: the American public. Judicial positions have been abolished, the justices’ jurisdiction has been stripped, the Court has been packed, and unpopular decisions have been defied. For at least the past sixty years, the justices have made sure that their decisions do not stray too far from public opinion. Friedman’s pathbreaking account of the relationship between popular opinion and the Supreme Court—from the Declaration of Independence to the end of the Rehnquist court in 2005—details how the American people came to accept their most controversial institution and shaped the meaning of the Constitution.


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In recent years, the justices of the Supreme Court have ruled definitively on such issues as abortion, school prayer, and military tribunals in the war on terror. They decided one of American history’s most contested presidential elections. Yet for all their power, the justices never face election and hold their offices for life. This combination of influence and apparent In recent years, the justices of the Supreme Court have ruled definitively on such issues as abortion, school prayer, and military tribunals in the war on terror. They decided one of American history’s most contested presidential elections. Yet for all their power, the justices never face election and hold their offices for life. This combination of influence and apparent unaccountability has led many to complain that there is something illegitimate—even undemocratic—about judicial authority. In The Will of the People, Barry Friedman challenges that claim by showing that the Court has always been subject to a higher power: the American public. Judicial positions have been abolished, the justices’ jurisdiction has been stripped, the Court has been packed, and unpopular decisions have been defied. For at least the past sixty years, the justices have made sure that their decisions do not stray too far from public opinion. Friedman’s pathbreaking account of the relationship between popular opinion and the Supreme Court—from the Declaration of Independence to the end of the Rehnquist court in 2005—details how the American people came to accept their most controversial institution and shaped the meaning of the Constitution.

30 review for The Will of the People: How Public Opinion Has Influenced the Supreme Court and Shaped the Meaning of the Constitution

  1. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    I think that this book changed my outlook not only as a writer, but as a student seeking a career in the legal field. While the subject of the text caught me completely off-guard, I found the topic contagious. Friedman discusses the American Courts in a way they are rarely discussed, as a branch of government that overreaches its vestiges of power to make laws which, ironically would be unconstitutional. The way in which Friedman writes outside of the typical scope of bland legal writing makes t I think that this book changed my outlook not only as a writer, but as a student seeking a career in the legal field. While the subject of the text caught me completely off-guard, I found the topic contagious. Friedman discusses the American Courts in a way they are rarely discussed, as a branch of government that overreaches its vestiges of power to make laws which, ironically would be unconstitutional. The way in which Friedman writes outside of the typical scope of bland legal writing makes the reader want to read on, and this text in particular serves as one of the sparks for my interest in the legal field. The balance of fact versus narrative throughout the text is almost flawless, and the two dimensions flow nicely together. While McCullough's narrative and Bailyn's facts and reasoning heavily influenced the content of my Honors in the Major Thesis, Friedman's book showed me a case where both facts and a story line were together. The idea of Judicial Activism is typically known for being a dry subject, and I think Friedman does a nice job of breaking this mold of monotony.

  2. 5 out of 5

    University of Chicago Magazine

    Barry Friedman, AB’78 Author From our pages (Jan–Feb/10): "The role of Supreme Court justices has been controversial since the Constitution was written. Critics argue that the justices have power without accountability; unelected, they hold their positions for life. Friedman counters that the American public has influenced judicial decisions. For at least the past 60 years, he says, Supreme Court verdicts on controversial topics such as abortion and gay and lesbian equality have echoed public opin Barry Friedman, AB’78 Author From our pages (Jan–Feb/10): "The role of Supreme Court justices has been controversial since the Constitution was written. Critics argue that the justices have power without accountability; unelected, they hold their positions for life. Friedman counters that the American public has influenced judicial decisions. For at least the past 60 years, he says, Supreme Court verdicts on controversial topics such as abortion and gay and lesbian equality have echoed public opinion."

  3. 4 out of 5

    Andy

    NYTimes Review gave this high marks and I'm making another stab at understanding our current Surpreme Court events...Though very well-written, it was too dry to hold my attention through the first third...

  4. 4 out of 5

    Tammy

    347.7312 Fri

  5. 4 out of 5

    Emily

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

  7. 4 out of 5

    Spencer

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ted Resnikoff

  9. 4 out of 5

    SarahD

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ron Kastner

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Byrd

  13. 5 out of 5

    Dave Barney

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ron Ribaudo

  15. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie Willoughby

  16. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Allen

  17. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie Rodriguez

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

  19. 4 out of 5

    Will

  20. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Williams

  21. 5 out of 5

    Miguel Zavala

  22. 5 out of 5

    Charles

    Reasonably thorough, but a bit dull, and not particularly convincing.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ron

  24. 4 out of 5

    Hassan Niazi

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kali

    Read this for a class. Highly recommend it for anyone who wants to know about judicial review, but be warned the book is dense.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Adam A.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mirah Curzer

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lev

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mecha Sapuppo

  30. 5 out of 5

    Michael Montgomery

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