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John Marshall and the Heroic Age of the Supreme CourtJohn Marshall and the Heroic Age of the Supreme Court

R. Kent Newmyer

Narrated by Castle Vozz

Available from Audible

Book published by Louisiana State University Press

John Marshall (17551835) was arguably the most important judicial figure in American history. As the fourth chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, serving from 1801 to1835, he helped move the Court from the fringes of power to the epicenter of constitutional government. His great opinions in cases like Marbury v. Madison and McCulloch v. Maryland are still part of the working discourse of constitutional law in America. Drawing on a new and definitive edition of Marshall's papers, R. Kent Newmyer combines engaging narrative with new historiographical insights in a fresh interpretation of John Marshall's life in the law. More than the summation of Marshall's legal and institutional accomplishments, Newmyer's impressive study captures the nuanced texture of the justice's reasoning, the complexity of his mature jurisprudence, and the affinities and tensions between his system of law and the transformative age in which he lived. It substantiates Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.'s view of Marshall as the most representative figure in American law.

R. Kent Newmyer is professor of law and history at the University of Connecticut School of Law, and the author of Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, among other books.


“In this comprehensive scholarly study of the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1801 to 1835, Newmyer (Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story) succeeds at "locat[ing] Marshall and his jurisprudence in the broader historical context." Newmyer, a professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law, cites three principal sources for Marshall's constitutional thinking: his experience as a Revolutionary soldier, his law career steeped in the common law tradition, and his upbringing among the landowning elite in Virginia. These formative influences, Newmyer contends, created in the fourth chief justice a belief system centered on the primacy of the federal union and respect for property rights. As a judge, Marshall (1755-1835) believed in but did not always practice nonpolitical interpretation of the Constitution. Newmyer profiles a dozen of the justice's foundational opinions for the Supreme Court, demonstrating Marshall's persistent nationalist vision in which a written Constitution trumps divisive state and local interests. At the end of his career, Marshall believed his vision had been swept aside by history; and so it had, as states' rights gained ascendancy in the years leading up to the Civil War. However, his decisions are still cited as precedents today and have had a formidable impact on key legislation such as New Deal welfare programs. In this sustained and thoughtful examination, Newmyer concentrates on his subject's ideas more than his personality or his life's chronology. The author plainly approves of Marshall as a man, a thinker and a judge, and this account will persuade readers that the judge is indeed worthy of study and admiration. ”

Publishers Weekly

“A legal and historical scholar with particular expertise in assessing the impact of U.S. Supreme Court heavyweights, Newmyer here offers fresh insight into the life, times, contributions, and significance of the Court's fourth chief justice. Focusing on Marshall's judicial career, he plunges into his early days as a novice lawyer and member of the Virginia legislature who was rapidly transformed by the Revolution into a frontier republican. Subsequently, he would step forth upon the national stage as a champion of the new order envisioned by the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The author points with consistency to Marshall's application of the rule of law in translating political confrontation and to his application of common-law rules and remedies in rectifying disputes. Chief Justice Marshall left an enduring legacy upon the Supreme Court by revealing a willingness to make political calculations a part of the decision-making process while nonetheless adhering to the rule of law in its pronouncements. In this context, notes the author, the lasting power of the Court became manifest as a result of Marshall's unique style of leadership. ”

Library Journal

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