There are moments in American history when all eyes are focused on a federal court: when its bench speaks for millions of Americans, and when its decision changes the course of history. More often, the story of the federal judiciary is simply a tale of hard work: of finding order in the chaotic system of state and federal law, local custom, and contentious lawyering. The Federal Courts is a story of all of these courts and the judges and justices who served on them, of the case law they made, and of the acts of Congress and the administrative organs that shaped the courts. But, even more importantly, this is a story of the courts' development and their vital part in America's history.TOC after the jump.
Peter Charles Hoffer, Williamjames Hull Hoffer, and N. E. H. Hull's retelling of that history is framed the three key features that shape the federal courts' narrative: the separation of powers; the federal system, in which both the national and state governments are sovereign; and the widest circle: the democratic-republican framework of American self-government. The federal judiciary is not elective and its principal judges serve during good behavior rather than at the pleasure of Congress, the President, or the electorate. But the independence that lifetime tenure theoretically confers did not and does not isolate the judiciary from political currents, partisan quarrels, and public opinion. Many vital political issues came to the federal courts, and the courts' decisions in turn shaped American politics.
The federal courts, while the least democratic branch in theory, have proved in some ways and at various times to be the most democratic: open to ordinary people seeking redress, for example. Litigation in the federal courts reflects the changing aspirations and values of America's many peoples. The Federal Courts is an essential account of the branch that provides what Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Judge Oliver Wendell Homes Jr. called "a magic mirror, wherein we see reflected our own lives."
Part I Courts in the Formative Era, 1776-1860
Chapter One Founding the Federal Courts 1776-1789
Chapter Two Open for Business, 1789-1801
Chapter Three A New Beginning, 1801-1835
Chapter Four The Antebellum Courts, 1836-1860
Part II Courts and the Founding of Modern America, 1861-1929
Chapter Five The Courts in Crisis Times, 1861-1876
Chapter Six The "Gilded Age" Courts, 1876-1896
Chapter Seven Federal Courts in the Progressive Era, 1897-1919
Chapter Eight Federal Courts in the "Age of Anxiety," 1921-1929
Part III No Longer the Weakest Branch, The Courts from 1929 to 1986
Chapter Nine The Courts in the Great Depression, 1929-1940
Chapter Ten Federal Courts and the "Good War," 1941-1945
Chapter Eleven The Courts and the Cold War, 1946-1954
Chapter Twelve Federal Courts in the Civil Rights Era, 1955-1969
Chapter Thirteen Reform and Reaction: the Federal Courts, 1969-1986
An Afterword by John Cooke and Russell Wheeler
Conclusion Whither the Federal Courts?