Books: John Marshall: The Man Who Made The Supreme Court

Basic Books, 2018 | ISBN 9780465096237

John Marshall is the greatest judge in American history. As Chief Justice of the Supreme Court for thirty-four years—a record that still stands—he impressed, charmed, and defied colleagues, skeptics and enemies, transforming an institution to which the founding fathers had given relatively little thought into a pillar of the nation. In 1801 when Marshall became Chief Justice the job lacked “dignity,” as one contemporary put it, while the judiciary was, in the words of another, the “weakest” branch of the federal government. When Marshall died in 1835, he and the Court he led had rebuked two presidents and a dozen states, and laid down principles of law and politics that still apply. Now, when the Supreme Court makes the news every day it sits, and every time a new justice must be appointed, there is no question of its prominence—a prominence it owes, in the first instance, to Marshall, the man who made it.

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[Associate Justice Joseph] Story loved John Marshall. “I love his laugh,” he wrote after hearing him for the first time as a Yazoo lobbyist; “I am in love with his character, positively in love,” he wrote at the end of Marshall’s life…. Marshall appreciated having such a disciple. They functioned as a team—on the bench, as a legal team; off it, sometimes as a comic team. It was an established custom of the Court that the justices could have wine at their boardinghouse dinners only if it were raining (evidently to cheer themselves up). Marshall would ask “Brother Story” to look out the window and say what the weather was. If Story reported that the sun was shining, Marshall would answer, “our jurisdiction extends over so large a territory…that it must be raining somewhere.” 

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