The History of the Supreme Court : The Great Courses: Modern History

  • by The Great Courses, Peter Irons
  • Narrated by Professor Peter Irons
  • Series: The Great Courses: Modern History
  • 18 hrs and 16 mins
  • Lecture

Publisher's Summary

For more than two centuries, the Supreme Court has exerted extraordinary influence over the way we live our daily lives. The Court has defined the boundaries of our speech and actions since its first meeting in 1790, adding to our history books names such as John Marshall, Louis Brandeis, Hugo Black, Earl Warren, Thurgood Marshall, Warren Burger, William Rehnquist, and many others.
Have you ever wondered what goes into shaping the Court's decisions - or the beliefs of its justices? Or how the nine justices blend divergent and often strongly conflicting philosophies to reach decisions that reflect consensus - or sometimes fail to? How even a single change in the Court's personnel can dramatically alter not only the Court's ideological balance but its cooperative chemistry, as well? Or what it actually sounded like in the Court as some of the most important cases in our history were argued? This series of 36 clear and insightful lectures - delivered by an award-winning teacher and widely respected authority on the Supreme Court - answers these questions and many more as it traces the development of the Court from a body having little power or prestige to its current status as, "the most powerful and prestigious judicial institution in the world."
The lectures are rich in biographical snapshots of not only the justices but also the advocates who have stood before them and the dozens of ordinary men and women whose cases have reached the Court. Several historical recordings are also highlighted, giving you a front-row seat as you hear lawyers actually arguing before the Court, as well as the justices' replies.
PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

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Customer Reviews

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Professor's Bias Does Not Detract

Though I've enjoyed quite a few TGC courses, this is the first time I have listened through a lecture series packaged as a "book" on Audible. The unity of the course was probably enhanced by the platform. which formatted the individual lectures as chapters. The only downside was having no access to the course notes. (The Teaching Company does not normally provide them a la carte.) This course surveys the Supreme Court as a living institution from its beginnings until the beginning of the 21st century. (The course is copyrighted 2003.) Dr. Peter Irons is an unquestionably qualified guide to the subject, having both written and taught on the Supreme Court from the perspective of a lawyer who belongs to its bar.

Speaking of perspective, Irons admits his filter at the beginning of the course and several times where his narrative pertains to issues that reveal his bias. His career in civil liberties law has clearly shaped his thinking. And although I would differ with Dr. Irons politically and ideologically on several points, I did not feel his stance took away from the quality or content of the course in the slightest. The unique point of view of a scholar (who knows how to be dispassionate and objective) who also has spent his career in the field of practice, passionately arguing for his convictions, opens an aware listener's mind to a deeper, richer experience of the subject. I disagree with reviews that downgrade the course because of Irons's bias.

The content of the course focuses on key members of the court and key cases which support the theme: individual liberty in tension with the power of the state. For me, it was an entry into a facet of civil government and American history long obscured by educational emphasis on the legislative and executive branches. As a member of a church that maintains "courts," I found the overlapping applications fertile and fascinating.

One more item worth mentioning: an advantage of this audio presentation is the several examples of actual Supreme Court proceedings--short samples of the voices of individual justices or oral arguments. I found that fascinating. One could only wish more recent pieces were added in an updated version.

I highly recommend this course to anyone interested in law, history, civil rights or political studies.
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- Bill Martin

Engrossing

This is a lecture series from the Great Courses that Audible provides. I normally obtain the video lectures via the Teaching Company but some courses work very well as an audio lecture such as this one. The professor for this course on the History of the Supreme Court is Peter Irons. He was a law professor at the University of California San Diego; he also taught political science.

The course format is 36 lectures of 30 minutes each. Professor Irons covers the formation of the Court up to the date of the course in 2001. Professor Irons covers key decisions of the Court and constitutional law. The author also discusses some of the key decisions and Chief Justices over the years. Professor Irons provides more information on John Marshall the 2nd Chief Justice, Chief Justice Roger Taney and Civil War Amendments. He also discusses the effects of Oliver Wendell-Holmes and Louis Brandeis on the Court. He covers Chief Justice William Howard Taft, the former President of the United States, who was appointed to the Court after he finished the office of the President. He also covers the New Deal, the cold war, Civil Rights and the appointment of Thurgood Marshall the first black on the Court. Sandra Day O’Connor the first women appointed to the Court.

The last Chief Justice appointed by a Democrat President was Frederick Moore Vinson (1890-1953) appointed by President Harry Truman in 1946. At that time the Court was divided by two opposing justices, Hugo Black and Felix Frankfurter. Vinson died suddenly of a heart attack in 1953. From 1953 to date, the Court has had a Chief Justice appointed by a Republican President. Irons goes on to review the all Republican appointed Chief Justices: Earl Warren, Warren Burger, and William Rehnquist. The course ends before the appointment of Roberts by President Bush.

The Professor did an excellent job presenting the course. The course was meticulously researched and presented. This is presented as a university course. I learned a great deal about the Court for reading this course. Over the last few years I have been reading biographies of the Supreme Court Justices and I was amazed at how much I have learned. The course provides a concise review of the Court for easy learning.
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- Jean

Book Details

  • Release Date: 07-08-2013
  • Publisher: The Great Courses