The Great Dissenter: The Story of John Marshall Harlan, America’s Judicial Hero

Peter S. Canellos. Simon & Schuster, $30 (608p) ISBN 978-1-5011-8820-6
Biographer Canellos (Last Lion) intertwines in this original and eye-opening biography the lives of Supreme Court justice John Marshall Harlan and his rumored half-brother, Robert Harlan, who was born a slave. Appointed to the court by President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1877 “as a kind of human olive branch to the South,” Kentucky-born Harlan was the lone dissenting voice in the Civil Rights Cases of 1883 and Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, decisions that established the legal precedent for enforcing racial discrimination and segregation. Canellos contends that Harlan’s egalitarian impulses were informed by growing up alongside Robert, the rumored son of Harlan’s father and an enslaved woman, who made a fortune in the California Gold Rush and became a political power broker in Cincinnati. The second half of the book examines the cases that defined Harlan’s judicial legacy and their lasting impact on issues ranging from income tax to civil rights; Canellos notes that Harlan’s dissent in Plessy became a touchstone in Thurgood Marshall’s fight to reverse decades of racial discrimination. Written in lively prose and enriched with colorful character sketches and a firm command of the legal issues involved, this is a masterful introduction to two fascinating figures in American history. Agent: Wendy Strothman, Strothman Agency. (June)
Reviewed on : 03/30/2021
Release date: 06/08/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
Compact Disc - 978-1-7971-2491-9
Paperback - 624 pages - 978-1-5011-8821-3
Downloadable Audio - 978-1-7971-2489-6
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