Jason P. Bloom 2017-04-27 05:13:51
Shaping a Nation How the federal judiciary molded American history. The history of the federal courts is a story of the grueling work, adherence to principles, and constant growth and change required to serve (and sometimes counter) the desires and needs of an evolving society and government. The story of the federal courts is, in essence, the story of the United States. Peter Charles Hoffer, Williamjames Hull Hoffer, and N.E.H. Hull take on the daunting task of recounting that narrative in a single volume in their aptly named book, The Federal Courts: An Essential History (Oxford University Press, 2016). Today, the federal judiciary holds a position of high esteem, power, and influence in the operation of our government and society. With the ability to enjoin the enforcement of executive orders and nullify laws as unconstitutional, the judiciary holds power equaling or exceeding that of its sister branches in many realms. The happenings of the federal judiciary often dominate the news cycle, and many Americans base their votes for officials in the political branches as much on the filling of judicial vacancies as on other issues. But the federal judiciary did not rise to its current place of prominence overnight or purely by constitutional decree. Rather, the journey, which was often fraught with uncertainty, was one of endurance, adjustment, and apt adherence to constitutional principles. An Essential History examines the creation, evolution, and important role of the federal courts in three historical phases: (1) the formative era of the courts and nation from the Constitutional Convention of 1787 to the Civil War, (2) Reconstruction and the subsequent founding of modern America, and (3) the continuing rise to prominence from the Great Depression forward. The book not only examines historically important cases the courts decided but also offers a glimpse into the lives and motivations of their judges and the lawyers practicing before them. The authors first trace the creation of the judicial branch and the important constitutional decisions that defined its role, while also examining the hardships endured by early judges—especially those required to ride the circuit. They describe how early circuit judges complained of traveling hundreds of miles on dangerous roads only to arrive at inns where they were required to share beds with strangers before tending to their judicial duties. The travel was so difficult and the pay so meager that many nominees to the federal judiciary refused to serve. As the country and judiciary grew, so did the federal courts’ influence on politics and the societal landscape. The courts both fanned the flames that led the nation into civil war and played a crucial role in reuniting the country in the post-war era of Reconstruction. In this context, the book examines the struggles of the competing roles of the state and federal governments and courts that ultimately defined our present system. Then comes an exploration of the courts’ complicated impact on the foreign and domestic struggles of the 20th century. As the country entered World War II, some federal courts played an unadmirable role in upholding the wartime internment of Japanese Americans. Yet, the courts played an invaluable role years later in desegregating the nation’s schools and implementing civil rights legislation. During this period, the judiciary itself became more diverse and a better representation of the society it served. The conclusion traces the evolution of the federal court system to its present prominence, observing certain continuities that have persevered over the years, such as the difficulty of managing constantly growing dockets within a narrow fiscal budget and the relatively low salaries available to federal judges. The authors took on an admittedly difficult challenge in examining the history of the entire federal court system in one volume. Although the reader is sometimes left wanting more detail on certain subjects, the book is well sourced, and a curious reader need only turn to the notes to be directed to what further detail he or she may seek. What the book accomplishes best is telling the history of the nation from the perspective of the third branch and thereby demonstrating the integral role the federal courts, their judges and staff, and the lawyers who practice before them have played, and will continue to play, in shaping the country. JASON P. BLOOM is a partner in the Dallas office of Haynes and Boone, where he heads the firm’s copyright practice group. He is the immediate past president of the Dallas Chapter of the Federal Bar Association. Bloom’s practice focuses on intellectual property and First Amendment trials and appeals in federal and state court.
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