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Justice Deferred

Race and the Supreme Court

Orville Vernon Burton Armand Derfner



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Harvard Uni.Press Academi
06 September 2021
In the first comprehensive accounting of the US Supreme Court's race-related jurisprudence, a distinguished historian and renowned civil rights lawyer scrutinize a legacy too often blighted by racial injustice.

The Supreme Court is usually seen as protector of our liberties: it ended segregation, was a guarantor of fair trials, and safeguarded free speech and the vote. But this narrative derives mostly from a short period, from the 1930s to the early 1970s. Before then, the Court spent a century largely ignoring or suppressing basic rights, while the fifty years since 1970 have witnessed a mostly accelerating retreat from racial justice.

From the Cherokee Trail of Tears to Brown v. Board of Education to the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act, historian Orville Vernon Burton and civil rights lawyer Armand Derfner shine a powerful light on the Court's race record-a legacy at times uplifting, but more often distressing and sometimes disgraceful. For nearly a century, the Court ensured that the nineteenth-century Reconstruction Amendments would not truly free and enfranchise African Americans. And the twenty-first century has seen a steady erosion of commitments to enforcing hard-won rights.

Justice Deferred is the first book that comprehensively charts the Court's race jurisprudence. Addressing nearly two hundred cases involving America's racial minorities, the authors probe the parties involved, the justices' reasoning, and the impact of individual rulings. We learn of heroes such as Thurgood Marshall; villains, including Roger Taney; and enigmas like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Hugo Black. Much of the fragility of civil rights in America is due to the Supreme Court, but as this sweeping history also reminds us, the justices still have the power to make good on the country's promise of equal rights for all.
By:   ,
Imprint:   Harvard Uni.Press Academi
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 235mm,  Width: 156mm,  Spine: 15mm
Weight:   666g
ISBN:   9780674975644
ISBN 10:   0674975642
Pages:   464
Publication Date:  
Audience:   Professional and scholarly ,  Undergraduate
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Orville Vernon Burton is the prizewinning author of several books, including The Age of Lincoln. He is Judge Matthew J. Perry Jr. Distinguished Professor of History at Clemson University and Emeritus University Scholar and Professor of History at the University of Illinois. Armand Derfner has been a civil rights lawyer for over fifty years. He has been counsel for, among others, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and helped desegregate university systems and legislatures across the South. He argued his first Supreme Court case in 1968.

Reviews for Justice Deferred: Race and the Supreme Court

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, House Majority Whip 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 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 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 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) 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 US 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

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