Supreme Court

Critical decisions by the Chief Justice saved the Supreme Court’s independence—and made possible its wide-ranging role today

Most jurists and constitutional scholars today would probably contend that the most controlling precedent to be set in the early republic was laid down in the 1803 Marbury v. Madison decision. While a formidable ruling, it was not, however, the decisive moment—at least not to people at the time. Read more >>

A new picture of prairie lawyers coping with bad roads and worse inns on the Illinois frontier, drawn from David Davis’ letters

Neither the Constitution nor the laws but John Marshall made the Court Supreme

50 Years Ago Read more >>

The strange story behind the most cited case in American history: THE MIRANDA DECISION

On the sixtieth anniversary of Pearl Harbor, the granddaughter of a Japanese detainee recalls the community he lost and the fight he waged in the Supreme Court to win back the right to earn a living

To the casual visitor, terminal island in Los Angeles Harbor is no more than a complex of dull warehouses and empty lots. Read more >>
IT’S SAID THAT FLANNERY O’CONNOR WAS THE first graduate of a university writing program to stake a claim to major-writer status. Read more >>

America looked good to a high school senior then, and that year looks wonderfully safe to us now, but it was a time of tumult for all that, and there were plenty of shadows along with the sunshine

It was a very good year. Certainly it was if you were seventeen. I was a senior in high school in 1954, a member of the class of January 1955, at Lincoln High School in Jersey City, New Jersey. Read more >>

It has always been politics as usual

Supreme Court vacancies have provoked fierce, colorful—and wholly partisan—battles since the earliest years of the Republic Read more >>

James Wilson was an important but now obscure draftsman of the Constitution. Carry Wills is a journalist and historian fascinated by what went on in the minds of our founders. The two men meet in an imaginary dialogue across the centuries.

  His red judge’s robe looked faded and theatrical by daylight. People at the bus stop stared at him, and his face flushed near the color of the robe. But he busily ignored them. Read more >>
In this year of the bicentennial of the Constitution, American Heritage asked a number of historians, authors, and public figures to address themselves to one or both of these questions: Read more >>

The framers of the Constitution were proud of what they had done but might be astonished that their words still carry so much weight. A distinguished scholar tells us how the great charter has survived and flourished.

The American Constitution has functioned and endured longer than any other written constitution of the modern era. It imbues the nation with energy to act while restraining its agents from acting improperly. Read more >>

Oliver Wendell Holmes was wounded three times in some of the worst fighting of the Civil War. But for him, the most terrible battles were the ones he had missed.

He was born in 1841, in a Boston that took its water from backyard wells and its light from whale-oil lamps. He died ninety-four years later in a nation that the army pilot James Doolittle had just crossed in twelve hours. Read more >>

When Elsie Parrish was fired, her fight for justice led to dramatic changes in the nation’s highest court.

When, on a spring day in 1935, Elsie Parrish walked into the office of an obscure lawyer in Wenatchee, Washington, to ask him to sue the town’s leading hotel for back pay, she had no idea she was linking her fate to that of exploited women in a Brooklyn laund Read more >>
Dear Chief: It is coming up on twenty-five years since, fresh out of law school, I reported for duty as your clerk on the Supreme Court. Read more >>

The Founding, Fathers never did agree about the proper relationship between church and state. No wonder the Supreme Court has been backing and filling on the principle ever since.

THE SUPREME COURT has been busy of late scrutinizing the “wall of separation,” a figure of speech attributed to Thomas Jefferson. It is not like the ugly Berlin Wall, built of concrete blocks and topped with broken glass and barbed wire. Read more >>

A quarter-century of judicial history, as seen—and made—by our only retired Supreme Court justice, a man whose allegiance to the Constitution often forced him to act against his personal preferences.

POTTER STEWART CAME TO the Supreme Court in 1958, appointed by President Eisenhower at the age of forty-three. Read more >>

Americans don’t hesitate to say anything they please about a public performance. But the right to do so wasn’t established until the Cherry Sisters sued a critic who didn’t like their appalling vaudeville act.

The year 1896 found Oscar Hammerstein in trouble. He was in debt, and the acts he had brought to Broadway weren’t doing well. He was desperate. “I’ve tried the best,” he is reported to have said. “Now I’ll try the worst.” So he sent for the Cherry Sisters. Read more >>

The Supreme Court says the First Amendment gives newspapers the right to denounce the government, advocate revolution, attack public figures, and even be wrong. This may not be nice—but those who understand the strengths of a republic wouldn’t have it any other way.

During the summer of 1919 a group of dissident members of the Socialist party, including the radical journalist John Reed, published a manifesto in the left-wing newspaper Revolutionary Age attacking the party’s more moderate e Read more >>

The great sit-down strike that transformed American industry

At General Motors’ Flint, Michigan, Fisher Body Number One, the largest auto-body factory in the world, it was early evening of a chill winter day. Read more >>

Nobody was murdered or maimed, but nobody backed down for twenty years in the struggle over school integration in Prince Edward County, Virginia. Who finally won?

The Reverend L. Francis Griffin sat in a metal folding chair in the basement assembly hall of the First Baptist Church in Farmville, Virginia. His modified Afro, bushy eyebrows, and Vandyke beard were flecked with gray. Read more >>
“We are a religious people.…” The United States Supreme Court likes to quote this dictum by Justice William O. Douglas, who coined the phrase to accompany a decision in 1952. Read more >>
The leak was known of old. It can afflict either a ship or a government, it invariably means that something invisible has gone wrong, and in certain cases it ends in disaster. Read more >>

He was promising at 25, prominent at 45, esteemed at 65, venerated at 85

I had quite a compliment on the street. As I was crossing the Avenue near the Capitol a very good looking man who was spinning by on a bicycle suddenly stopped and jumped off, and said ‘Isn’t this Mr. Read more >>

In forty years of scraping and scrapping for women’s rights, Abigail Scott Duniway never lost her nerve or wicked tongue

Man is, or should be, woman’s protector and defender. Read more >>

Behind-the-scenes records reveal how the Supreme Court reached its fateful desegregation decisions

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court of the United States destroyed the legal basis for racial segregation in public schools. As it almost had to be in a case that stirred elemental passions, the decision was unanimous. Read more >>

… and grew, and grew, and grew …

Sixty years ago the permanent individual income tax, with escalation built into its table of rates, came on gently and quietly, by no means ignored, yet not the object of any great furor, either. Read more >>

When one weary woman refused to be harassed out of her seat in the bus, the whole shaky edifice of Jim Crow began to totter

A neatly dressed, middle-aged black woman was riding home on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus on the evening of Thursday, December 1, 1955. Read more >>