The Supreme Court (2007– )

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Series cast summary:
 Narrator (4 episodes, 2007)


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31 January 2007 (USA)  »

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Good, if relatively brief, history of the Supreme Court
19 March 2008 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

This is a nice documentary for those interested in the evolution and major decisions of the Supreme Court from its creation in the late 1700's through about 2005. Being only four hours long in total, there is not nearly enough time to cover every important decision in the Court's history, so it focuses on four important eras in the Court's existence: the fight to gain respectability as a significant branch of the Federal Government in the early 1800's, the battle over whether the Constitution prohibits government interference with contract and employment in the early 1900's, the civil rights cases of the Warren Court in the 1950's and 60's, and the troubled yet gradual "conservative revolution" on the Supreme Court from the 70's to today. It also focuses closely on one justice from each of those periods, respectively, Justices John Marshall, Holmes, Black, and Rehnquist. Other significant justices like Harlan I, Field, Brandeis, Frankfurter, Douglas, Warren, Brennan, Scalia, and O'Connor are also briefly discussed.

What's there is well done. There are a lot of photos and nice interviews (including several commentaries by current Chief Justice John Roberts), and a lot of color on the four justices it focuses on. The discussions of the cases are lively and not too technical, although viewers without any knowledge of constitutional law might benefit from watching the show with someone more familiar with it, as there really isn't enough time to explain the basics in great detail.

The subject matter is chosen well to appeal to people with different opinions on the Supreme Court: you get one justice who fought to expand the Court's power (Marshall), one justice who fought to restrain it (Holmes), one liberal justice who led the fight for civil rights (Black), and one conservative justice who sought to rein in liberal reforms (Rehnquist). Although the last episode mentions events occurring as late as 2005, the last case discussed is 2000's Bush v. Gore.

It's by no means everything you could hope to learn about the Court or Constitutional Law, but once you accept the relatively modest scope, it does what it sets out to do and does it well.

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