Released the week before the beginning of the 2009-10 Supreme Court term, The Will of the People: How Public Opinion Has Influenced the Supreme Court and Shaped the Meaning of the Constitution, the new book by Vice Dean Barry Friedman, Jacob D. Fuchsberg Professor of Law, examines the evolution of the Court’s relationship with the American people. It was the subject of a full-page book review in the September 27 New York Times.
In a podcast interview with Atticus Gannaway, the Law School magazine’s senior writer, Friedman argues that, contrary to the popular belief that the Supreme Court is beyond the reach of the ordinary American citizen, there are many ways in which the Court has been held accountable to public opinion. During the interview, Friedman discusses the Supreme Court’s valuable role in sparking public constitutional debate, the question of whether it’s entirely a good thing that the Court’s overall jurisprudence tends to align over time with the public will, and other issues of vital importance to American democracy.
New York Times reviewer Emily Bazelon called the book a "thought-provoking and authoritative history" of the relationship between the Supreme Court's jurisprudence and popular opinion. Detailing the evolving influence of the will of the people on the Court's justices, Bazelon noted that the idea Friedman supports, "democratic constitutionalism"—in which a dialogue among citizens, their government, and the courts works to enforce the Constitution—"seems to be gaining momentum. Friedman’s contribution to this discussion is the breadth and detail of his historical canvas, and it’s a significant one."
The book raises "riveting questions," Bazelon wrote, such as this one: "Is the court even capable of standing up for constitutional rights when they are jeopardized by the majority?" Bazelon added, "Friedman is right that the question is worthy of much more study." Later, referring to Franklin Roosevelt's attempts to check the power of the Supreme Court, Bazelon concluded, "Roosevelt may have been foiled in his attempt to control the court directly. But he was prescient in insisting that his interpretation of the Constitution counted, too. And, as Friedman shows, so does ours."
Posted on September 30, 2009