Scorpions–Noah Feldman

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A second non-fiction book in a row. I’m on a non-fiction roll, apparently. The book I’m currently reading is also non-fiction, so take that for fair warning.

This book is about the Supreme Court justices that FDR appointed. Their backgrounds and careers before the Supreme Court, their relationship with FDR and later Truman, and how they came to make the significant decisions they did during their time on the highest court of the land.

It’s incredibly interesting. These guys were characters. The more you read, the more disappointed you become in Felix Frankfurter, the leading liberal of his time who ended up supporting the Japanese internment, advocating for the limitation of free speech, and generally backstabbing the other justices.

On the other hand, Hugo Black got elected to office on the strength of his membership in the Ku Klux Klan (bear in mind that it was Alabama in the 1930s, when most of the white adult male population was apparently in the Klan, and certainly a majority of those in power were) but then became the true liberal of the court, advocating for constitutional originalism and absolute free speech.

Jackson went from being FDR’s attorney general to being a Supreme Court justice and later prosecuted the Nuremberg trials, where he famously imploded and never really regained his former standing or reputation. Hugo Black, incidentally, disapproved of the entire notion of the Nuremberg trials, pointing out (correctly!) that 1) the laws that the Nazis were being tried for violating did not exist at the time the offenses were committed and 2) it was basically a show trial, it’s not like anyone expected any other verdict than guilty. As a result, he felt that it was unbecoming for a Supreme Court justice to participate in what was, essentially, an illegal undertaking.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I have almost no legal knowledge and no knowledge of the Supreme Court and I found it easy to understand, engaging, and enlightening.

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