By the summer of 1941, in the ninth year of his presidency, Franklin Roosevelt had molded his Supreme Court. He had appointed seven of the nine justices—the most by any president except George Washington—and handpicked the chief justice. But the wartime Roosevelt court had two faces. One was bold and progressive, the other supine and abject, cowed by the charisma of the revered president.
Professor of constitutional law and criminal justice at Georgetown University Law Center Cliff Sloan explores this pivotal period and shares the inside story of how one president forever altered the most powerful legal institution in the country, with consequences that endure today. In an instructive tale for modern times, Sloan discusses the cast of characters that made up the justices—from the mercurial, Vienna-born intellectual Felix Frankfurter to the Alabama populist Hugo Black, and from the western prodigy William O. Douglas, FDR’s initial pick to be his running mate in 1944, to Roosevelt’s former attorney general and Nuremberg prosecutor Robert Jackson.
Sloan asserts that the justices’ shameless capitulation and unwillingness to cross their beloved president highlight the dangers of an unseemly closeness between Supreme Court justices and their political patrons. But, he notes, the FDR court’s finest moments also provided a robust defense of individual rights, rights the current Supreme Court has put in jeopardy.
Sloan’s book The Court at War: FDR, His Justices, and the World They Made (PublicAffairs) is available for purchase.
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