Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Reviewed: Maveety on the Rehnquist Era and Hoffer on The Treason Trials of Aaron Burr

Queen's Court: Judicial Power in the Rehnquist Era by Nancy Maveety is reviewed by Terri Peretti, Department of Political Science, Santa Clara University in the Law and Politics Book Review. The author "examines policy leadership on the Rehnquist Court and offers a fascinating and nuanced assessment," Peretti writes.

Her account offers several interesting insights, including (1) the rise of a “supremely individualist conception of judicial power,” seen particularly in the increase in separate opinion writing and “multivocal judicial decision making;” (2) the dominance of “rule-of-thumb jurisprudence” that is “heavily dependent on singular judgment calls by individual justices in case by case adjudication;” (3) the key role of Justice O’Connor in developing and deeply embedding these complementary practices; and (4) the powerful and multiple legacies of these behavioral developments for constitutional doctrine, the Court’s institutional norms and practices, Court commentary, and decision making in the lower federal courts....

Maveety begins with a puzzle: despite being highly regarded as a successful chief Justice, Rehnquist was not a dominant voice or a policy leader during his tenure. Instead, the Court was “multivocal” with “many separate judicial voices raised in opinion to constitute Court decisions” (p.3). In fact, the Court was “staffed by nine separate sovereignties,” which “is why there was at once no Rehnquist Court and also, a distinctively Rehnquist-era Court chorus” (p.3). The “choir director,” Maveety contends, was O’Connor – “Queen Sandra” – rather than Rehnquist. Understanding these new behavioral patterns and their [*74] doctrinal and intellectual impacts sets the agenda for the rest of the book.

Continue reading here.

James H. Read, Professor of Political Science, College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University takes up The Treason Trials of Aaron Burr by Peter Charles Hoffer. Read writes:

Aaron Burr was a central character in three fascinating political dramas of the early American republic: the 1800 presidential election, when an electoral college tie between Burr and Thomas Jefferson took 36 ballots to resolve; the fatal duel with Alexander Hamilton in 1804; and Burr’s high-profile treason trial of 1807, where Burr was suspected of plotting violently to sever the Kentucky region from the United States, or perhaps to lead an illegal invasion of Spanish territories, or perhaps something else altogether. No one knew at the time, and no one knows today, exactly what Aaron Burr intended when he arranged for a large gathering of men and boats on Blennerhassett Island in the Ohio River on December 9, 1806....

This book is about Burr’s trial (and those of his alleged co-conspirators). Its central protagonist is not Burr at all but John Marshall....Hoffer observes that most historians treat the Burr trial as a political drama, but maintains that the legal story is equally important (p.185).The major accomplishment of THE TREASON TRIALS OF AARON BURR is convincingly to argue that the Burr trial was an important moment in the history of American constitutional law....

To the ultimate question, “why does Burr matter?”, Hoffer replies that the Burr trials proved “that judges had the power to deny to the other branches ill-founded prosecutions of unpopular and even dangerous men. This is the most important precedent of the Burr treason trials, the most important story we can tell about law in the early republic, and one we have to remember” (p.188).
Read the rest here.