New Book on Supreme Court by Historian James MacGregor Burns

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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. - James MacGregor Burns, the Woodrow Wilson Professor of Government Emeritus at Williams College, is the author of a new book titled "Packing the Court: The Rise of Judicial Power and the Coming Crisis of the Supreme Court" (Penguin).

Burns, a distinguished scholar of presidential leadership and Pulitzer Prize winner, presents an illuminating critique of how an unaccountable and frequently partisan Supreme Court has come to wield more power than the founding fathers ever intended -- and may be headed for a historic confrontation over judicial power.

Much as we would like to believe that the Court remains aloof from ideological politics, Packing the Court reveals how often justices behave like politicians in robes.

As Burns reminds us, the Constitution does not grant the Supreme Court the power of judicial review -- that is, the ability to strike down laws passed by Congress and signed by the president. Yet throughout its history, as Packing the Court demonstrates, the Supreme Court has used this power to derail progressive reform.

The term "packing the court" is usually applied to FDR's failed attempt to expand the size of the Court after a conservative bench repeatedly overturned key New Deal legislation.

But Burns shows that presidents from Jefferson to Jackson, Lincoln to FDR, have clashed with powerful justices who refused to recognize the claims of popularly elected majorities.

The book, called by Publishers Weekly "fresh and compelling," reveals how these battles have threatened the nation's welfare in the most crucial moments of our history, from the Civil War to the Great Depression -- and may do so again.

More than eight years after Bush v. Gore, ideological justices have the tightest grip on the Court in recent memory.

Drawing on over two centuries of American history, Packing the Court offers a clear-eyed and provocative critique of judicial supremacy and concludes with a bold proposal to strip the Court of its power to frustrate democratic leadership.
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