When Adams sought to prolong his policies in defiance of the electorate by packing the courts, the fine words of the new Constitution could do nothing to stop him. It would take a man to make those words good, and America found him in John Marshall.
The Great Decision tells the riveting story of Marshall and of the landmark court case, Marbury v. Madison, through which he empowered the Supreme Court and transformed the idea of the separation of powers into a working blueprint for our modern state.
Rich in atmospheric detail, political intrigue, and fascinating characters, The Great Decision is an illuminating tale of America's formative years and of the evolution of our democracy.
©2009 Cliff Sloan and David McKean; (P)2009 Audible, Inc.
"[T]heir book provides a colorful description of the tumultuous times in which the Court rendered its landmark judgment. And the book's implicit references and comparisons to our own politically divisive times will not be lost on the attentive reader." (The Washington Post)
"In this highly accessible book, the authors skillfully build suspense and tension around an outcome readers may already know." (Booklist)
This book truly fills a gap in most histories of the early republic. Most people are vaguely aware of "Marbury vs. Madison" (though I am surprised how many don't know who either of the litigants were, even the famous James Madison). Most people's knowledge ends with that it was the first time the Supreme Court struck down a law as "Unconstitutional." This book does an outstanding job of setting the stage for WHY this was such an important case. Also, some of the intricacies of it, such as that John Marshall was the Secretary of State during the end of the Adams administration who prepared the commissions that were never sent to Marbury (as well as 2 others). It goes into the politics of the time and just how anemic the Supreme Court actually was.
It also, of course, described the decision and the part that made it most remarkable was that the court managed to assert its authority in the least threatening way possible. It said a law was unconstitutional which could be seen as an affront to the legislative and executive branches, however they did it in sch a way that LIMITED their own authority. In effect, intentionally losing the battle (we do not have authority to issue a ruling on a law that is unconstitutional) to win the war (we HAVE the authority to decide whether it is constitutional or not). It was a brilliant balance of judicial restraint, judicial activism, statesmanship, and politics.
To be fair, this author also gives, albeit in very short sections, some of the criticisms of the Marbury decision (like the inclusion of a court hypothetical ruling on a case involving a law that they decided was unconstitutional). They also do point out on several occasions that state courts had declared state laws unconstitutional (however Marbury was the first time the US Supreme Court had done this) so this act was not unprecedented.
FInally, this book finally gives some explanation behind the antipathy between Marshall and Jefferson as well as describing how they were related. Many books I have read have said they were cousins, but didn't describe the "family tree" to explain this. After this book I have a far greater understanding of this and how it affected them both at a visceral level.
My one small caveat with this book is that it does, for some stretches, become tedious, but this is necessary in a story this technical and these stretches were short.
This book definitely qualifies as a 5-star listening/reading experience. It covers ground only lightly trod in any other book I have read/heard. It covers it with fairness and adequate thoroughness.
Slanted a bit in John Marshall's favor but not overly biased. Gripping story. A good listen
This book is really boooorrrrriiinng. It purports to tell the story of Marbury v Madison, one of the first US Supreme Court decisions.
But, it illuminated political activities during the early period of US history, in long, excrucia
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