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The Warren Court and American Politics

The Warren Court and American Politics

Lucas A. Powe, Jr.

ISBN 9780674006836

Publication date: 02/15/2002

The Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren was the most revolutionary and controversial Supreme Court in American history. But in what sense? Challenging the reigning consensus that the Warren Court, fundamentally, was protecting minorities, Lucas A. Powe, Jr. revives the valuable tradition of looking at the Supreme Court in the wide political environment to find the Warren Court a functioning partner in Kennedy–Johnson liberalism. Thus the Court helped to impose national liberal-elite values on groups that were outliers to that tradition: the white South, rural America, and areas of Roman Catholic dominance.
In a learned and lively narrative, Powe discusses over 200 significant rulings: the explosive Brown decision, which fundamentally challenged the Southern way of life; reapportionment (one person, one vote), which changed the political balance of American legislatures; the gradual elimination of anti-Communist domestic security programs; the reform of criminal procedures (Mapp, Gideon, Miranda); the ban on school-sponsored prayer; and a new law on pornography.
Most of these decisions date from 1962, when those who shaped the dominant ideology of the Warren Court of storied fame gained a fifth secure liberal vote. The Justices of the majority were prominent individuals, brimming with confidence, willing to help shape a revolution and see if it would last.


  • Mr. Powe describes himself as someone who 'worshipped' the Warren Court. Even so, he portrays it impartially as the super-legislature it often resembled—an outcome-directed body that rarely worried about constitutional theory or precedent… The court set into motion a philosophy of political activism—heedless of constitutional doctrine—that has become, for many judges ever since, almost a way of life. This cannot be a good thing, however much we might applaud some of the Warren court's rulings or the good intentions that lay behind them. Admirably, especially for someone still enthralled by the Warren Court, Mr. Powe seems to recognize this.

    —Jay P. Lefkowitz, Wall Street Journal


  • Lucas A. Powe, Jr. holds the Anne Green Regents Chair at the University of Texas, where he teaches in the School of Law and the Department of Government.

Book Details

  • 600 pages
  • 1-1/4 x 6-3/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press