Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR's Great Supreme Court Justices

Reviewed by Walter Russell Mead

In This Review

Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR's Great Supreme Court Justices
By Noah Feldman
Twelve, 2010
528 pp. $30.00

No U.S. president has appointed as many Supreme Court justices as Franklin Roosevelt did; hamstrung in his first term by the opposition of conservative justices, and frustrated by the failure of his notorious court-packing scheme, he ultimately remade the Court through his appointees. Four of them -- Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter, William Douglas, and Robert Jackson -- are among the most influential justices in U.S. history. Feldman looks at how these men came to the Court, how their ideas developed there, and how their interplay and rivalries reshaped constitutional thought and the balance of power in the republic. Originally all liberal allies of the New Deal, the Roosevelt appointees only gradually came to understand just how radically different their judicial philosophies were. Feldman follows both the intellectual and the personal stories of their descent into enmity and traces many of the questions that perplex court watchers today back to the New Deal. The book climaxes with the story of how the judges were able to reach unanimity in Brown v. Board of Education and demonstrates Feldman's admirable ability to weave a compelling narrative out of a complicated and abstract plot.

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