Keeping the Faith: A Cultural History of the U.S. Supreme Court

John E. Semonche, Author
John E. Semonche, Author Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. $42.95 (499p) ISBN 978-0-8476-8985-9
Reviewed on: 06/29/1998
Release date: 07/01/1998
Paperback - 499 pages - 978-0-8476-8986-6
Open Ebook - 499 pages - 978-0-585-24589-8
Open Ebook - 511 pages - 978-1-283-60003-3
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To students of the Constitution, Semonche's expansive history covers familiar ground. Semonche sees American constitutional law as the apotheosis of a progressive American ""civil religion,"" and if his references to ""justices' priestly roles"" and the ""holy writ of the Constitution"" seem stretched, it does cast new light on many well-known constitutional cases and conflicts. While it's tempting to group him with authors who make ever more extravagant claims regarding the Constitution, Semonche's account of the continued advancement of individual liberties throughout American constitutional history never strays too far from the historical facts. His analysis runs through the signing of the Declaration of Independence and adoption of the Constitution; the emergence of the Supreme Court's institutional role as an equal branch of government; the evolution from slavery to the 1960s civil rights era; and the rights revolution and retreat under the Warren and Rehnquist courts, respectively. In each of these eras, Semonche (Religion and Constitutional Government in the United States) finds evidence of an American civil religion. He finds support for his claims in revealing quotations from Supreme Court justices, speeches by political leaders and pleas of citizens appealing to the Supreme Court for assistance. Despite the book's dense and somewhat formulaic presentation, the historical account proves accurate. Still, it's not clear how much is gained by conceiving of constitutional history as a form of civil theology. By accentuating positive developments, Semonche fails to grapple fully with less illustrious periods in our constitutional history (e.g., the separate but equal doctrine), ultimately undercutting the force of his otherwise solid scholarship. (Aug.)
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