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Justice Deferred

Justice Deferred

Race and the Supreme Court

Orville Vernon Burton, Armand Derfner

ISBN 9780674295445

Publication date: 05/01/2024

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“[A] learned and thoughtful portrayal of the history of race relations in America…authoritative and highly readable…[An] impressive work.”
—Randall Kennedy, The Nation

“This comprehensive history…reminds us that the fight for justice requires our constant vigilance.”
—Ibram X. Kendi

“Remarkable for the breadth and depth of its historical and legal analysis…makes an invaluable contribution to our understanding of the US Supreme Court’s role in America’s difficult racial history.”
—Tomiko Brown-Nagin, author of Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality

From the Cherokee Trail of Tears to Brown v. Board of Education to the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act, Orville Vernon Burton and Armand Derfner shine a powerful light on the Supreme Court’s race record—uplifting, distressing, and even disgraceful. Justice Deferred is the first book that comprehensively charts the Supreme Court’s race jurisprudence, detailing the development of legal and constitutional doctrine, the justices’ reasoning, and the impact of individual rulings.

In addressing such issues as the changing interpretations of the Reconstruction amendments, Japanese internment in World War II, the exclusion of Mexican Americans from juries, and affirmative action, the authors bring doctrine to life by introducing the people and events at the heart of the story of race in the United States. Much of the fragility of civil rights in America is due to the Supreme Court, but as this sweeping history reminds us, the justices still have the power to make good on the country’s promise of equal rights for all.


  • Show[s] with heartbreaking clarity how the Supreme Court has typically been more a foe than a friend to the pursuit of racial equality…[An] impressive work…Burton and Derfner’s discussion of recent Supreme Court jurisprudence offers high levels of insight, and they provide reliable guidance on controversies involving affirmative action, capital punishment, regulation of police, and other vexing subjects.

    —Randall Kennedy, The Nation


  • Orville Vernon Burton is a prizewinning author of many books, including The Age of Lincoln. He is Judge Matthew J. Perry Chair of History at Clemson University and Emeritus University Scholar at the University of Illinois. Inducted into the Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. Collegium of Scholars, he is also a recipient of the Southern Historical Association’s John Hope Franklin Lifetime Achievement Award.
  • Armand Derfner has been a civil rights lawyer for nearly sixty years as well as a scholar and teacher of constitutional law. He has helped shape the Voting Rights Act in numerous Supreme Court arguments and worked on desegregating state university systems and state legislatures across the South.

Book Details

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