The inside story of how one president forever altered the most powerful legal institution in the country—with consequences that endure today
By the summer of 1941, in the ninth year of his presidency, Franklin Roosevelt had molded his Court. He had appointed seven of the nine justices—the most by any president except George Washington—and handpicked the chief justice.
But the wartime Roosevelt Court had two faces. One was bold and progressive, the other supine and abject, cowed by the charisma of the revered president.
The Court at War explores this pivotal period. It provides a cast of unforgettable characters in the justices—from the mercurial, Vienna-born intellectual Felix Frankfurter to the Alabama populist Hugo Black; from the western prodigy William O. Douglas, FDR’s initial pick to be his running mate in 1944, to Roosevelt’s former attorney general and Nuremberg prosecutor Robert Jackson.
The justices’ shameless capitulation and unwillingness to cross their beloved president highlight the dangers of an unseemly closeness between Supreme Court justices and their political patrons. But the FDR Court’s finest moments also provided a robust defense of individual rights, rights the current Court has put in jeopardy. Sloan’s intimate portrait is a vivid, instructive tale for modern times.
Get recommended reads, deals, and more from Hachette
Cliff Sloan is a professor of constitutional law and criminal justice at Georgetown University Law Center. He has argued before the Supreme Court seven times. He has served in all three branches of the federal government, including as Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure, and is the author of The Great Decision: Jefferson, Adams, Marshall, and the Battle for the Supreme Court.His commentary on the Supreme Court and legal issues has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Slate, and other publications, and on television and radio networks.