Cover: Justice Deferred: Race and the Supreme Court, from Harvard University PressCover: Justice Deferred in HARDCOVER

Justice Deferred

Race and the Supreme Court

Product Details


$35.00 • £30.95 • €31.95

ISBN 9780674975644

Publication Date: 05/31/2021


464 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

35 photos

Belknap Press


Also Available As

Jacket: Justice Deferred

PAPERBACK | $24.95

ISBN 9780674295445


Add to Cart

Educators: Request an Exam Copy (Learn more)

Media Requests:

Related Subjects

Extremely important and timely… When it comes to SCOTUS’s racial decisions, Burton and Derfner let the history speak for itself… It is hard to read this story…as anything other than a disappointing and dispiriting betrayal of African Americans, Native Americans, Asian immigrants, other minorities, and civil rights… Many of the stories and cases considered in Justice Deferred are utterly heart wrenching. Taken together, they are enough to make us question our trust in the Supreme Court.—R. Owen Williams, Los Angeles Review of Books

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

A comprehensive portrait of the centrality of race in some of the Court’s most momentous decisions… We would do well to internalize the lessons of Justice Deferred as we consider the current attacks on Critical Race Theory (which isn’t taught in K–12 schools, by the way) and Nikole Hannah-Jones’ ‘1619 Project’ as they attempt to shed light on the persistence of white supremacy in America. While it, too, may be demonized for its unflinching portrayal of our racialized legal history, Justice Deferred should be required reading for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the impact of race on American political, economic, and legal structures.—John L. S. Simpkins, Post and Courier [Charleston, SC]

At best, the US Supreme Court has a mixed record when it comes to issues of race and civil rights… Justice Deferred offers a needed refresher course for faded memories on the Supreme Court’s unequal history with one of the key issues not only of our day, but one that has always been key in this country’s development—one that still requires more work.—Mike Farris, New York Journal of Books

An engaging, accessible, and elegantly written analysis of the history of American race relations, framed around roughly two hundred Supreme Court cases… A superb study.—Jeffrey Adler, Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Books

A fluent, illuminating but dispiriting book… Ingeniously shows how widely the badge of servitude—the presumption that Blacks are unfit for equal rights and opportunities—has continued to haunt race relations.—Stephen J. Whitfield, Patterns of Prejudice

An important contribution… Burton and Derfner argue that most of the Supreme Court’s accomplishments happened from the 1930s to the early 1970s. Before then, the court ‘spent much of its history ignoring or suppressing those rights, and in the half century since the early 1970s the Court’s record on civil rights has retreated far more than it advanced.’ With clear and accessible prose, Burton and Derfner trace this disheartening story, which began during slavery and has not stopped.—Frye Gaillard, The Progressive

The first book to comprehensively chart the Supreme Court’s race jurisprudence. For reasons obvious to many, this book could not have come too soon. We are lucky to finally have this important history reference at a time when it seems the lessons of history can too easily be forgotten.—Talis Abolins, Trial News

An extensive, thoughtful narrative charting the history and impact of race jurisprudence in the United States Supreme Court… Burton and Derfner exhaustively cover court cases and decisions from 1619 to the present (on issues ranging from Indigenous land rights to voting), explore how phrasing and word choice can uphold laws, and contextualize the relationship between these court decisions and ongoing racial discrimination in the U.S.… Superb… It will benefit scholars and students, as well as readers interested in civil rights and legal history.Library Journal (starred review)

A comprehensive survey of the Supreme Court’s role in the battle for racial equality. Analyzing more than 200 rulings, the authors make clear that the court has more often been an impediment to progress than an ally of it… Spanning American history from the colonial era to the present day, Burton and Derfner offer copious evidence that justices have been influenced by the politics of their respective eras… This meticulous deep dive into the court’s mixed record on civil rights is a must-read for legal scholars.Publishers Weekly

This comprehensive history demonstrates a hard truth in America: the highest court has most often been on the wrong side of racial justice. From the heartbreak of Dred Scott to the promise of Brown v. Board of Education to current efforts to roll back voting rights, Justice Deferred reminds us that the fight for justice requires our constant vigilance.—Ibram X. Kendi, author of Stamped from the Beginning and How to Be an Antiracist

Justice Deferred plumbs, with magisterial sweep and resonant clarity, the Supreme Court’s wrestling with white America’s commitment to the politics of domination. For ten of our nation’s twelve generations, no massacre has been too bloody, no injustice too stark, for the Court to defend. Excruciating legal battles have brought evanescent victories. Always, justice requires us to struggle against the sin of forgetfulness, and this book strikes a mighty blow, calling us to the struggles of our time and reminding us that higher ground awaits.—Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, Co-chair, Poor People’s Campaign

When we reflect on the past, patterns emerge that explain the present. This remarkable book about race and the Supreme Court comes at a time when Americans are reckoning with the injustices of our past and the inequities they have wrought on our present. The fascinating narrative by Burton and Derfner, both of whom I know and admire, is especially relevant and can be helpful as our nation continues its pursuit of ‘a more perfect Union’ in the days and years to come.—Congressman James E. Clyburn (D-SC), House Majority Whip

Weaving together sweeping trends and telling detail from cases both (in)famous and unknown, Justice Deferred is invaluable. Burton and Derfner go beyond constitutional cases to examine statutory cases as well, from fugitive slave lawsuits to decisions interpreting the anti-discrimination statutes of the Second Reconstruction, offering a far richer explanation for the current state of the law and racial justice. Written with a clarity that general readers can follow but with a sophistication that will deepen law students’ and practicing attorneys’ understanding, it is exactly the right book at the right time.—Pamela S. Karlan, Stanford Law School

Remarkable for the breadth and depth of its historical and legal analysis, Justice Deferred makes an invaluable contribution to our understanding of the U.S. Supreme Court’s role in America’s difficult racial history.—Tomiko Brown-Nagin, author of Courage to Dissent: Atlanta and the Long History of the Civil Rights Movement

Eminent historian Vernon Burton and distinguished civil rights lawyer Armand Derfner have produced a marvelous, comprehensive history of race and the Supreme Court. Justice Deferred is a thoroughly engaging and accessible book on an essential subject.—Mary Frances Berry, former chair, United States Commission on Civil Rights

In this magisterial history, Burton and Derfner demonstrate how the law both reflects society and shapes it. Explaining landmark Supreme Court cases through the entire sweep of American history, they reveal that the key dividing line in American judicial ideology is between justices who interpret our laws broadly to bring our fundamental principles to life and justices who interpret them narrowly in order to starve them. This book is smart, accessible, and important.—Heather Cox Richardson, author of To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party

A vivid narrative and analysis of social and political conflict whose issues made their way to the highest court for resolution. Written in a lucid, readable style, Justice Deferred traces the ways in which the Supreme Court sustained slavery, upheld the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments during the early years of Reconstruction, shamefully succumbed to a racist retreat from equal rights until the 1940s, and led the way in a second Reconstruction from the 1950s to the 1980s, but has stumbled into a second and erratic retreat during the past thirty-five years.—James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era

The sensitive and unsparing analysis that accompanies the wonderfully rich detail in this important book makes it a necessary work for anyone who wants to understand race in America through the critical lens of the Supreme Court’s powerful influence.—Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

Recent News

Black lives matter. Black voices matter. A statement from HUP »

From Our Blog

Jacket: Iron and Blood: A Military History of the German-Speaking Peoples since 1500, by Peter Wilson, from Harvard University Press

A Lesson in German Military History with Peter Wilson

In his landmark book Iron and Blood: A Military History of the German-Speaking Peoples since 1500, acclaimed historian Peter H. Wilson offers a masterful reappraisal of German militarism and warfighting over the last five centuries, leading to the rise of Prussia and the world wars. Below, Wilson answers our questions about this complex history,