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The Great Justices, 1941-54

Black, Douglas, Frankfurter, and Jackson in Chambers

William Domnarski

Publication Year: 2006

The Great Justices offers a revealing glimpse of a judicial universe in which titanic egos often clash, and comes as close as any book ever has to getting inside the minds of Supreme Court jurists. This is rare and little-examined territory: in the public consciousness the Supreme Court is usually seen as an establishment whose main actors, the justices, remain above emotion, vitriol, and gossip, the better to interpret our nation of laws. Yet the Court's work is always an interchange of ideas and individuals, and the men and women who make up the Court, despite or because of their best intentions, are as human as the rest of us. Appreciating that human dimension helps us to discover some of the Court's secrets, and a new way to understand the Court and its role. Comparing four brilliant but very different jurists of the Roosevelt Court-Hugo Black, William O. Douglas, Felix Frankfurter, and Robert Jackson-William Domnarski paints a startling picture of the often deeply ambiguous relationship between ideas and reality, between the law and the justices who interpret and create it. By pulling aside the veil of decorous tradition, Domnarski brings to light the personalities that shaped one of the greatest Courts of our time-one whose decisions continue to affect judicial thinking today. William Domnarski is the author of In the Opinion of the Court (1996), a study of the history and nature of federal court judicial opinions. He holds a J.D. from the University of Connecticut and a Ph.D. in English from the University of California. Domnarski currently practices law in California, where he is also working on a forthcoming biography of legendary Hollywood lawyer Bert Fields.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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p. vii

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xiii

In 1937 Franklin Roosevelt was finally able to make his own appointments to the Court. He eventually appointed eight new justices to what he expected would be a Court sympathetic to his values and ambitions. Hugo Black (1937), Felix Frankfurter (1939), William O. Douglas (1939), and Robert Jackson...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-17

When the characters are large and the jurisprudential stakes high, an approach favoring personal pro‹le over full-blown biography or constitutional history does its best work. This is true on both fronts here. The period principally under review, the 1941–54 Supreme Court terms, charts the time Frankfurter, Black, Douglas, and Jackson served together...

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2. The Tragic Figure of Robert Jackson

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pp. 19-59

The distinguishing aspect of Robert Jackson’s career is not that he went from a small, solo law practice in western New York state to become the solicitor general of the United States, the attorney general of the United States, a U.S. Supreme Court justice, and the nation’s lead prosecutor at the...

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3. Felix Frankfurter and Arrogance Rewarded

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pp. 61-97

Felix Frankfurter came to the Court in 1939 at the age of fifty-seven, believing he had been better prepared to do its work than anyone in its history. Twenty-three years later, he left the Court, implicitly hectoring his brethren for their failure to follow the standard he had articulated throughout his...

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4. Hugo Black and the Perils of Literalism

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pp. 99-128

With Hugo Black we come to a rare example of a Supreme Court justice doubling as a national hero. In the twentieth century only Oliver Wendell Holmes and Earl Warren have had greater public recognition for their role as justices, and in the case of Chief Justice Warren not all of the public’s sentiments...

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5. William O. Douglas: Judging and Being Judged

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pp. 129-164

While there has been some controversy about some of the details of William O. Douglas’s life, at least as he recounted them, the degrees in the arc of his career of high achievement are well known. The details of his personal life aside, his enduring legacy comes in the contrast between Douglas...

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6. Conclusion

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pp. 165-168

The story of Justices Jackson, Frankfurter, Black, and Douglas is really three interrelated stories that affect our current understanding of the Court and its justices. One story is about the Court’s evolving civil rights jurisprudence, a jurisprudence that was born in the period that the four justices...


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pp. 169-173


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pp. 175-194


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pp. 195-201


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pp. 203-206

E-ISBN-13: 9780472021581
E-ISBN-10: 0472021583
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472115365
Print-ISBN-10: 0472115367

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 8 Tables
Publication Year: 2006

OCLC Number: 630756342
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Great Justices, 1941-54

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Subject Headings

  • United States. Supreme Court -- Biography.
  • United States. Supreme Court -- History -- 20th century.
  • Judges -- United States -- Biography.
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