Book Review: The Supreme Court and the American Elite, 1789 – 2008

TITLE: The Supreme Court and the American Elite, 1789-2008
AUTHOR: Lucas A. Powe, Jr.
PUBLISHER: Harvard University Press PAGE COUNT: 432 pp.
ISBN: 978-0-674-03267-5
PRICE: $29.95

A leading historian of the Supreme Court, Professor Powe clerked for Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas before joining the University of Texas Law School faculty. In his latest work, the author decries what he calls the “Imperial Court,” overly concerned with solidifying its primacy through a series of pretentious opinions designed to establish limits on congressional power. Detailing a litany of cases in which the Rehnquist Court overturned positive, progressive, and proactive legislation designed to protect and improve society, the Supreme Court turned to a rigid interpretaion of the Commerce Clause in an overreaching attempt to stifle Congressional attempts to exercise its regulatory authority ostensibly granted by the Constitution. Powe links the Supreme Court’s late-Century mindset change with its attack upon reformist legislation designed to expand and extend rights and privileges to the needy and neglected, coinciding with the ascendancy of a Republican majority in Congress that began with the 1994 elections and continued until the recent mid-term election of 2006. Surfing a wave of electoral sentiment, the author notes, is a bad move for a Court cognizant of its historical legacy, and it may someday regret its decisions to invalidate the Violence Against Women Act, strike down the Gun Free School Zones Act, and abrogate damage remedy provisions under both the Age Discrimination and Americans with Disabilities Acts. Recommended for academic, public, and law libraries.

Philip Y. Blue, New York State Supreme Court Criminal Branch Law Library, First Judicial District, New York, New York

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