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3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (89 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: James MacGregor Burns Narrator: Norman Dietz Publisher: Tantor Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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For decades, James MacGregor Burns has been one of the great masters of the study of power and leadership in America. Now he turns his eye to an institution of government that he believes has become more powerful—and more partisan—than the Founding Fathers ever intended: the Supreme Court. Much as we would like to believe that the Court remains aloof from ideological politics, Packing the Court reveals how often justices behave like politicians in robes.

Few Americans appreciate that the framers of the Constitution envisioned a much more limited role for the Supreme Court than it has come to occupy. In keeping with the Founders’ desire for balanced government, the Constitution does not grant the Supreme Court the power of judicial review—that is, the ability to veto acts of Congress and the president. Yet throughout its history, the Supreme Court has blocked congressional laws and, as a result, often derailed progressive reform.

The term packing the court is usually applied to FDR’s failed attempt to expand the size of the Court after a conservative bench repeatedly overturned key elements of the New Deal. But Burns shows that FDR was not the only president to confront a high court that seemed bent on fighting popular mandates for change, nor was he the only one to try to manipulate the bench for political ends. Many of our most effective leaders—from Jefferson to Jackson, Lincoln to FDR—have clashed with powerful justices who refused to recognize the claims of popularly elected majorities. Burns contends that these battles have threatened the nation’s welfare in the most crucial moments of our history, from the Civil War to the Great Depression—and may do so again.

Given the erratic and partisan nature of Supreme Court appointments, Burns believes we play political roulette with the Constitution with each election cycle. Now, eight years after Bush v. Gore, ideological justices have the tightest grip on the Court in recent memory. Drawing on more than two centuries of American history, Packing the Court offers a clear-eyed critique of judicial rule and a bold proposal to rein in the Supreme Court’s power over the elected branches.

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Quotes & Awards

  • "[Dietz’s] tone and pacing make it easy to follow the constitutional arguments, and he pauses at crucial intervals to allow listeners to consider Burns’s ideas.”

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Listener Opinions

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Blake Maddux | 11/28/2013

    " 3 1/2 stars. Nothing spectacular, but an easy read with a lot of info, and a provactive - if unlikely to applied - solution in the final chapter. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Sarah | 11/20/2013

    " This is an excellent book, but requires a more sophisticated knowledge of the history of politics in America and how that translated for each president. Well worth the read and a cery powerful picture of how important the Supreme Court justices are in shaping America. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Tom Lawson | 7/28/2013

    " This is a clear, and passionate, history of the Supreme Court and its mostly anti-progressive, anti-democratic tendencies. Some great stuff on the dangers of pure theory versus experience-based practice. Flawed by a little too much on Burns' previous theories of transformational leadership "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 by Daniel DeLappe | 7/25/2013

    " What a light weight book. This book was a semi-interesting read about the Supreme Court if you do not want to read anything with depth and good history. Then you hit page 250 and it is another tiresome screed on George Bush. What a waste. "

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About the Author

James MacGregor Burns, political scientist and author, is a senior scholar at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond and professor emeritus at Williams College. He is the author of numerous books on leadership, including Roosevelt: The Soldier of Freedom, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1978 and the National Book Award.