Dissent and the Supreme Court: Its Role in the Court’s History and the Nation’s Constitutional Dialogue

Melvin I. Urofsky. Pantheon, $35 (544p) ISBN 978-0-307-37940-5
Well into the 20th century, the U.S. Supreme Court issued unanimous single opinions in over 90% of its cases. By 1952, only 22% of the Court’s opinions were unanimous, a division that continues today. Critics contend that lack of unanimity leads to legal uncertainty and undermines the Court’s institutional authority. Urofsky (Louis D. Brandeis), however, disagrees, writing that while the vast majority of dissents are forgotten, a select few prove “canonical or prophetic.” To take one significant example, John Marshall Harlan’s lone dissent against the “separate but equal” Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) ruling eventually carried the day in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), when the Court unanimously struck down racial segregation in public education. Another famous dissent was by Louis Brandeis in Olmstead v. United States (1928), where the majority ruled that a warrantless wiretap did not violate the Fourth Amendment. Brandeis’s opinion in favor of a constitutional right of privacy—“the right to be let alone”—eventually prevailed and now forms the foundation of the Court’s search-and-seizure jurisprudence. For students of the law, in school or out, with a keen interest in Supreme Court history, this book offers a welcome perspective on a vibrant, ongoing constitutional dialogue. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 06/08/2015
Release date: 10/13/2015
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 978-1-101-87063-1
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