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H-NET BOOK REVIEW Published by H-Law@h-net.msu.edu (May 2007) Peter Irons. _A People's History of the Supreme Court: The Men and Women Whose Cases and Decisions Have Shaped Our Constitution_. Foreword by Howard Zinn. New York: Penguin Books, 2006. x + 588 pp. Notes, sources for further reading, index. $18.00 (paper), ISBN 0-14-303738-2. Reviewed for H-Law by Martine Courant Rife, Communication Department, Lansing Community College The Supreme Court through a Popular History Lens This comprehensive book covers major Supreme Court opinions beginning with a separation of powers case, _Hayburn's case_ (1792), and ending with a challenge to the American detention facility at Guantanamo, _Rasul v. Bush_ (2005). Peter Irons modeled his book on Howard Zinn's _A People's History of the United States_ (2003) and while Irons's text generally fits within literature on the Constitution and Supreme Court, he writes in a style suitable for non-lawyers. This book will be of special interest to those interested in social activism and critical race theory, as well as how issues of race have been shaped by, and in turn shaped, major decisions of the Supreme Court. While legal scholars and historians will appreciate the book as it is situated within the existing literature, the book is also extremely accessible for a legal novice. The context and details provided for each case add to the "human interest" factor such that this book is entertaining (and sometimes emotionally wrenching) as well as educational. The book is divided into seven sections and thirty-eight chapters, outlined within the table of contents which provides detailed subheadings for each chapter, along with a very useful list of cases discussed in each chapter and their dates. The first section, "To Establish a More Perfect Union," provides background for the framing of the constitution and the origins of the Supreme Court. The next section, "It Is a Constitution We Are Expounding," covers the years 1792-1842 and generally illustrates how separation of powers and the Supreme Court's jurisdiction evolved, ending with chapter 12, "Good Great, and Excellent Man," a segue for larger discussions of the issues of slavery and the status of African Americans presented to the court via _Dred Scott v. Sandford _ (1857) and _Plessy v. Ferguson_ (1895). In section 4, "Liberty in a Social Organization," Irons covers the years 1877-1937 and Supreme Court cases surrounding fear of socialism, workers' rights, free speech, and the implications of Roosevelt's New Deal. Section 5, "Beyond the Reach of Majorities," covers the years 1938-64, and tackles Supreme Court opinions involving Japanese internment, and school segregation, and Warren's landmark cases on free speech such as _United States v. O'Brien_ (1968), _Tinker v. Des Moines_ (1969) and _New York Times v. Sullivan_ (1964) (pp.419-420). Section 6, "A Right of Personal Privacy," covers the abortion issue along with affirmative action (1942-92). The book ends with a final section entitled "It Is a Cultural War" that covers the years 1987-2005. In this last section, Irons provides a quick overview of the school prayer issue, along with displays of the ten commandments, and affirmative action cases such as _Gratz v. Bollinger_ (2003). Also considered are opinions such as _Lawrence v. Texas_ (2003), involving challenges to sodomy and anti-gay laws. Irons discusses key cases, including not only the decisions, but also the political factors influencing decisions, and additional human interest details about plaintiffs and defendants involved in these cases. Such discussions illuminate how context-based every Supreme Court opinion is, and how often they are tied to the personal and political views of the judges who have served. Race and racism is a main thread throughout the text, and Irons does not spare even the most sacred judicial heroes from criticism. For example, Justice John Marshall is shown to have clearly "looked at blacks as property, not as persons" due to his insistence on adhering to some ideal higher than human rights. Irons argues that while Marshall served as Chief Justice for over thirty years, he has largely escaped criticism for his views on race. When forced to make choices between liberty and property, Irons makes a compelling argument that Marshall chose the latter over the former (pp. 139-141). A case in point is _The Antelope_ (1825), the only case where Marshall directly considered the slave issue. Irons comments at length on Marshall's conflicted personal and political views on this case. Clearly, as a civil liberties lawyer, Irons has a view on these matters and does not hesitate to share it with the reader. Iron's analysis highlights the crucial role of race and African Americans in the shaping of American judicial history. This is an excellent book and is highly recommended; it may even be plausible to argue that this book should be required reading for every U.S. citizen. A weak area of the book, however, is its neglect of Supreme Court decisions regarding Native Americans. The unique history and development of "sovereignty" for federally recognized tribes is absent. Where are discussions of Supreme Court opinions such as _Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock_ (1903) holding that any existing treaty could be modified through congressional act, _Johnson v. M'Intosh_ (1823), _Cherokee Nation v. Georgia_ (1831), _Worcester v. Georgia_ (1832), and_United States v. Rickett_ (1903)? Perhaps this might be addressed in a future edition, since it would be valuable to see how these Supreme Court decisions could be mapped onto the mainly African American race-related opinions that Irons does cover. This gap in the book's coverage will be sorely disappointing to Native American scholars and their allies--and this gap makes the book an incomplete history. Perhaps a later edition might include these cases woven into the existing discussion. Such a fundamental addition would surely add to the breadth and accuracy of the book's representation as a _People's History_. I nonetheless highly recommend this book because it does much to reveal the entangled issues of race that have shaped U.S. history. This book serves as a resource as well to those teaching on or around legal histories, since bringing in some of the "stories" surrounding key Supreme Court opinions will surely add to the ability of students to engage with the material. Copyright (c) 2007 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For other uses contact the Reviews editorial staff: firstname.lastname@example.org.