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The Constitution and the New Deal

The Constitution and the New Deal

G. Edward White

ISBN 9780674008311

Publication date: 05/15/2002

In a powerful new narrative, G. Edward White challenges the reigning understanding of twentieth-century Supreme Court decisions, particularly in the New Deal period. He does this by rejecting such misleading characterizations as "liberal," "conservative," and "reactionary," and by reexamining several key topics in constitutional law.

Through a close reading of sources and analysis of the minds and sensibilities of a wide array of justices, including Holmes, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Van Devanter, and McReynolds, White rediscovers the world of early-twentieth-century constitutional law and jurisprudence. He provides a counter-story to that of the triumphalist New Dealers. The deep conflicts over constitutional ideas that took place in the first half of the twentieth century are sensitively recovered, and the morality play of good liberals vs. mossbacks is replaced. This is the only thoroughly researched and fully realized history of the constitutional thought and practice of all the Supreme Court justices during the turbulent period that made America modern.


  • Well-crafted point-of-view books, especially those that challenge conventional understandings, are often a pleasure to read. By focusing on facts, interpretations, and logical arguments inconsistent with the prevailing wisdom, such books chip away at long entrenched views and create room for doubt that did not previously exist…they frequently initiate serious reconsideration of settled things. Such a book is G. Edward White’s latest effort, The Constitution and the New Deal. In this volume the distinguished University of Virginia legal historian offers a frontal attack on conventional understandings of the New Deal and its effect on American jurisprudence… White’s volume is well-argued and well-documented. It provides a coherent and often compelling argument, one that reflects considerable scholarly thought over a significant period of time… White’s argument encourages a creative rethinking of an historical account previously considered settled.

    —Thomas G. Walker, Law and Politics Book Review


  • G. Edward White is David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Virginia and the author of numerous books, including Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. and Alger Hiss’s Looking-Glass Wars.

Book Details

  • 400 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press