History of the Supreme Court

Course No. 8570
Professor Peter Irons, Ph.D.,M.A., J.D.
University of California, San Diego
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Course No. 8570
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Course Overview

For more than two centuries, the Supreme Court has exerted extraordinary influence over the way we Americans live our daily lives. The Court has defined the limits of our speech and actions since its first meeting in 1790, adding to our history books names such as John Marshall, Louis Brandeis, Hugo Black, Earl Warren, Thurgood Marshall, Warren Burger, William Rehnquist, and many others.

Have you ever wondered what goes into shaping the Court's decisions—or the beliefs of its justices? Or how the nine justices blend divergent and often strongly conflicting philosophies to reach decisions that reflect consensus—or sometimes fail to? How even a single change in the body of the Court can alter dramatically not only the Court's ideological balance but its cooperative chemistry, as well? Or what it sounded like in the Court as some of the most important cases in our history were argued?

The Powers of Law and Politics in the Judiciary

The History of the Supreme Court answers these questions and more as it traces the development of the Court from a body having little power or prestige to its current status as "the most powerful and prestigious judicial institution in the world." The course is taught by a professor schooled in law and politics—both of which are critical to understanding the Court—who is an honored teacher as well as an experienced advocate.

Professor Irons's experience includes initiating the case that ultimately cleared the records of three Japanese Americans whose convictions for resisting World War II internment had been upheld by the Court.

He has also discovered and made available to the public for the first time historic audio recordings of arguments begun during the era of Chief Justice Earl Warren.

Several historic recordings are highlighted in this course. You will have a front-row seat as you hear lawyers arguing before the Court—and the justices' replies. Among those you'll hear are:

  • Dramatic moments from the debates in Roe v. Wade
  • The voice of future Justice Thurgood Marshall, standing to defend the rights he had won four years earlier in Brown v. Board of Education, when the Court struck down the doctrine of "separate but equal" education that had endured since Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896.

Consensus ... Continuity ... Diversity

As he tells the Court's story, Professor Irons returns to the themes he declares have been critical to the Court's transformation into that "powerful and prestigious" institution:

  • How the Court works to achieve consensus, even in the face of conflicting judicial views
  • How the Court's decisions reflect changes in our society while still achieving the judicial continuity so essential to stability in the law
  • How diversity in so many aspects of American society—and especially in race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation—has influenced both the Court's decisions and choices of cases.

The course is rich in biographical snapshots of the justices as well as the advocates who stood before them, and the dozens of ordinary men and women whose cases reached the court.

Meet the People who Made an Impact

You'll meet Chief Justice Roger Taney, John Marshall's proslavery successor, whose ruling in Dred Scott v. John Sandford—that no black man could be a citizen—is considered the Court's most shameful decision. At his death, one critic remarked that Taney had "earned the gratitude of his country by dying at last. Better late than never."

You'll encounter a man named Ernesto Miranda, whose 1966 case, Miranda v. Arizona, established the Miranda rights that have become standard procedure in police interrogations, and you'll listen to recordings of lawyers for both sides arguing the case.

Wide-ranging in scope, and clear and nuanced in its presentation, The History of the Supreme Court offers a fascinating look into a vital institution.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Personality and Principle
    We outline the Court's development as an institution and discuss the themes that will recur throughout the course: continuity and change, consensus and conflict, and the societal diversity that creates many of the Court's cases. x
  • 2
    Shaping the Constitution and the Court
    This lecture discusses the factors that led to the drafting of a new Constitution and the debates over the shape of the new government. x
  • 3
    Ratification and the Bill of Rights
    We examine the debates at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 over ratification between the supporting Federalists and the Antifederalists, as well as the addition of the Bill of Rights in 1791 and the workings of the Court during its first decade. x
  • 4
    John Marshall Takes Control
    The impact of Marshall's 34-year tenure as Chief Justice has been significant and long-lasting. This lecture examines his career and influence. x
  • 5
    Impeachment, Contract, and Federal Power
    This lecture examines the impeachment and trial of Justice Samuel Chase, as well as several landmark cases that grew out of the rapid growth of the nation in the 19th century. x
  • 6
    Roger Taney Takes Control
    When Roger Taney—a fervent advocate of states rights and slavery—became Chief Justice after the death of John Marshall, the Court's reading of the Constitution became very different. x
  • 7
    "A Small Pleasant-Looking Negro"
    The conflict over slavery holds center stage in this lecture, which looks at the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the growth of the abolitionist movement, with its primary focus on Chief Justice Taney and a slave named Dred Scott. x
  • 8
    The Civil War Amendments
    This lecture begins with the national debate following the Dred Scott decision and continues with the effect on the Court of both the Civil War and Reconstruction. x
  • 9
    "Separate but Equal"
    Beginning with the so-called "stolen election" of 1876, this lecture looks at the Courts of Chief Justices Morrison Waite and Melville Fuller, with added focus on Justice John Marshall Harlan and the "separate but equal" doctrine established in Plessy v. Ferguson. x
  • 10
    Two Justices from Boston
    This lecture looks at the backgrounds, legal careers, and judicial approaches of two justices who differed in many ways but shared a devotion to the First Amendment: Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis. x
  • 11
    The Laissez-Faire Court
    This lecture analyzes the Court's conflicts between 1877 and 1908 over the notion of a "laissez-faire Constitution" based on "liberty of contract" and the effect of its decisions on later New Deal rulings. x
  • 12
    "Clear and Present Danger"
    This lecture looks at how World War I impacted the limits of political protest, examining three "sedition" cases that established the famous "clear and present danger" test. x
  • 13
    The Taft Court and the Twenties
    In the midst of post-war conservative reaction, former President William Howard Taft became Chief Justice, leading a staunchly conservative Court that nevertheless issued some surprising decisions regarding education. x
  • 14
    Wins and Losses for New Deal Laws
    This lecture examines the reactions of the Court, under Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, to President Franklin Roosevelt's efforts to fulfill his promises of a "New Deal." x
  • 15
    "Court Packing" and Constitutional Revolution
    This lecture looks at both President Roosevelt's attempt to "pack the Court" to ensure passage of his proposals and the effects of the "Constitutional Revolution" unleashed by key 1937 decisions. x
  • 16
    The New Dealers Take Control
    The retirements or deaths of five justices between 1937 and 1940 gave President Roosevelt an opportunity to create a "New Deal-friendly" Court. This lecture focuses on three of his choices: Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter, and William O. Douglas. x
  • 17
    "Beyond the Reach of Majorities"
    The Court's role in protecting the rights of religious minorities is highlighted in several major rulings involving members of the Jehovah's Witnesses, including two centered on the refusal of school children to salute the flag. x
  • 18
    Pearl Harbor and Panic
    This lecture examines the Court's rulings in cases arising from the mass evacuation and internment of West Coast Japanese Americans during World War II. x
  • 19
    The Supreme Court and the Communist Party
    This lecture is devoted to the Court's major rulings in cases involving the Communist Party from 1937 to 1951, an era when suspicion of possible subversion by pro-Soviet sympathizers was a major social undercurrent. x
  • 20
    Thurgood Marshall—Lawyer and Justice
    Beginning with a biographical focus on Thurgood Marshall, this lecture introduces the strategy and early cases he developed as the leader of the NAACP's campaign to strike down the South's "Jim Crow" laws. x
  • 21
    Five Jim Crow Schools and Five Cases
    We follow Marshall's final assault on segregated education as five carefully selected cases move to the Court, focusing not only on Marshall, but on the lawyers who worked with him and the federal judges they faced. x
  • 22
    The Hearts and Minds of Black Children
    This lecture examines the oral arguments and court deliberations in those five cases—decided in May 1954 as Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas—including the determination of new Chief Justice Earl Warren to achieve a unanimous ruling. x
  • 23
    "War Against the Constitution"
    Brown produced three important issues discussed in this lecture: the implementation of the decision, the South's reaction to the Court's call for "all deliberate speed," and the Court's 1958 response to the most serious case of resistance, in Little Rock, Arkansas. x
  • 24
    Earl Warren—Politician to Chief Justice
    We look at the background and career of Chief Justice Earl Warren, whose appointment to the Court as a political reward by President Dwight Eisenhower gave little indication of the era that was to follow. x
  • 25
    "We Beg Thy Blessings"
    Four major rulings between 1947 and 1963 involving the government's commitment to religious neutrality and religion in the classroom provide the backbone of this lecture. x
  • 26
    "You Have the Right to Remain Silent"
    Though the Constitution includes four amendments protecting the rights of defendants, it was not until the Warren years that a national code of criminal procedure began to evolve. This lecture looks at key rulings involving search-and-seizure, the right to counsel, and the right to remain silent. x
  • 27
    The Warren Court Reshapes the Constitution
    This lecture examines several controversial rulings, including those involving the issues of "one man, one vote," racial discrimination in "public accommodations," and the First Amendment rights of students. x
  • 28
    Earl Warren Leaves, Warren Burger Arrives
    This lecture discusses Chief Justice Warren's unusual 1969 retirement and his replacement by Warren Burger, and two landmark rulings by the Burger Court on the busing of school children, and the publication of the Pentagon Papers. x
  • 29
    "A Right to Privacy"
    This lecture begins a discussion of the Court's rulings on abortion and includes a look at two justices placed on the Court by President Richard Nixon: Louis Powell and, in some detail, Chief Justice William Rehnquist. x
  • 30
    From Abortion to Watergate
    Two cases form the core of this lecture: Roe v. Wade, including the development of Justice Harry Blackmun's majority opinion, and the Watergate Tapes case of Nixon v. United States. x
  • 31
    The Court Faces Affirmative Action
    The issue of affirmative action to address long-standing patterns of discrimination is the focus of this lecture, including the Court's landmark 1978 ruling in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. x
  • 32
    Down from the Pedestal, Out of the Closet
    This lecture discusses the Court's rulings in cases dealing with discrimination against two groups women and homosexuals. x
  • 33
    Burning Flags and Burning Crosses
    This lecture examines the Court's rulings in two cases involving "symbolic speech"—flag-burning as political protest and cross-burning as an expression of racial hatred—as well as major changes in the Court's membership in 1986 and 1987. x
  • 34
    Prayer and Abortion Return to the Court
    The Court's landmark decisions in cases involving school prayer and abortion did little to resolve the controversy surrounding those issues, which the Court has been forced to revisit several times since. x
  • 35
    One Vote Decides Two Crucial Cases
    This lecture begins with the Court's continuing struggle to deal with abortion, including the complex reasoning that produced the decision not to overturn Roe v. Wade, and ends with its five-to-four ruling in the disputed presidential election of 2000. x
  • 36
    Looking Back and Looking Ahead
    The course concludes with a look back at the Court's history in terms of the roles played by our basic themes of continuity and change, consensus and conflict, and societal diversity. x

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Your professor

Peter Irons

About Your Professor

Peter Irons, Ph.D.,M.A., J.D.
University of California, San Diego
Dr. Peter Irons is Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the University of California, San Diego. He earned his undergraduate degree from Antioch College and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Science from Boston University. He earned his J.D. from Harvard Law School, where he served as senior editor of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. Before taking his position at San Diego, Professor Irons taught at...
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Reviews

History of the Supreme Court is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 122.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Full, excellent overview of the Supreme Court The very knowledgeable professor gives a very full and completely apprehensive overview of the Court. Worth every penny!
Date published: 2017-03-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Advocacy not Education This is just more advocacy from ACLU; this is not real education. I was disappointed by a thin to nonexistent legal arguments of key cases the professor presents, e.g., Fletcher v. Peck; Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge; and Munn v. Illinois. This professor only gives you brief case summaries, if that, and tells you that these cases where important for property rights. The problem is that he ignores actual legal arguments in favor of "significance," ideology," etc. As other reviewers have correctly pointed out, this course is not a history of the Supreme Court but a civil rights advocacy, a narrative in which the U.S. government is a villain (save for "progressive" Supreme Court justices) that victimizes kind, soulful minorities. The professor in this course acts like a lawyer who zealously (though in a soft voice) represents the interests of one side. The feeling this gives is that the other side (the side he ignores or attacks) has no legitimate interests or is not even worthy of consideration. Peter Irons is on the side of the good and the enlightened; the other side is either evil or ignorant. Having earned my Ph.D. in Political Science from a liberal university (but I am being redundant, as if there is any other ideological kind of university), I can say that Dr. Irons' approach is all-too-typical among high-powered academics. Either you are with them or you are not a deserving student/scholar/person. This course, thus, provides a window into what our social science graduate programs have become. Dr. Irons is not a special case when it comes to bias and ideology; he's just been at it longer and accomplished more in pursuit of his ideology than most.
Date published: 2017-01-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Exceptional teacher, but not always balanced. I've read other reviews of this course which make my main point, so I'll try to address other issues. Professor Irons is certainly a knowledgeable observer of the late 20th-century Supreme Court. He knows his stuff. His lectures are engaging and compelling. His delivery is polished. In terms of style, this is one of the best-taught of the Great Courses - nearly up there with the classical music courses (though not as funny). Without question, Professor Irons has a bias. He is intensely interested - some might say, "obsessed" - with America's long racial history. And he is quick to acknowledge a liberal bias, and to remind his listeners of this bias at regular intervals. Thus, it's not surprising that this course focuses on slavery, civil rights, and late in the series - the application of the Bill of Rights to the states (through "incorporation") and the development of the right of privacy, focusing, inevitably, on Roe v. Wade. Many other areas of constitutional, statutory, economic and administrative law are given relatively short shrift. Which is, really, not a bad thing. A full-blown course in the history of the Supreme Court would require 72 lectures, if not 144. By sticking to one major theme in the Court's evolution, Professor Irons tells a good story - and he tells it well. If there is a real weakness in the course, it lies in the professor's relative unfamiliarity with the early days of the Court. At one point, for example, he baldly states that President Thomas Jefferson was behind the attempt to impeach Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase - an interpretation which was effectively exploded by Professor Richard Ellis in 1971. Likewise, throughout the pre-Civil War period, Professor Irons is quick to assign "racism" as the sufficient explanation for any act or decision which tended to support the institution of slavery. Truly, the issues were a great deal more complicated than that. One needn't excuse the practice of chattel slavery to appreciate that - once the system was in place - many wise and good men (and women) were at a loss to figure out how to end it. But let's not the course's occasional weaknesses at the expense of its strengths. For any serious adult who wants to learn something about the Supreme Court and its history, this is an excellent jumping-off point. Keep in mind Professor Irons' biases - and he will remind you of them, often enough - and you'll learn a lot!
Date published: 2017-01-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the Best Courses I Have Purchased It has been more than 50 years since I graduated from law school. My professor in constitutional law, of blessed memory, had served as a law clerk for the great justice Louis Brandeis. I had even written a published article on criminal-constitutional law. However, once I was out practicing in the real worId, I never had the occasion to use constitutional law. I purchased this course thinking it might be nice to pick up a refresher on the subject after more than half a century. It turned out to be much more than that. I found the course to be absolutely delightful – informative and insightful – without being too heavy. Professor Irons considered factors that we did not cover in law school. Trial and appellate lawyers are trained to develop legal arguments and to sharpen the rhetorical devices that are the tools of their trade. Professor Irons makes these arguments come alive as he presents the competitive points made before the justices and then shows how the Supreme Court uses the arguments – or selected portions of the arguments – to support its decisions. However, in addition, he also places the cases he has selected into an historical perspective and presents thumbnail biographies of some of the justices so that we have a better understanding of their own personal views, which may often have a significant bearing upon the opinion rendered. In this aspect, Professor Irons went beyond classical legal analysis in explaining and clarifying the opinions in some of the most important cases decided by the Supreme Court. Although a person with a legal background may have a deeper appreciation of some of the issues and arguments presented by Professor Irons, in my opinion such a background is absolutely unnecessary for a thoroughly enjoyable learning experience. I am looking forward to a future incarnation of this course, which may cover more recent constitutional law cases. However, until that comes along, I would recommend this course highly to anyone is interested in understanding the judicial branch of our government
Date published: 2016-12-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautifully taught, intersting, wonderful! This course turned out to be fascinating! Obviously, the United States supreme court has played a pivotal role in USA history. In fact, its influence has been much wider and has affected justice systems across the globe. Having said this, when you start to consider the infrastructure of this institution, some very interesting points come up… As was clear to, and intended by, the architects of the constitution – the role of the court is the least democratic of all of the governing bodies described in the constitution and the most elitist. Its members are elected for life, assuming good behavior, and they are politically appointed. Perhaps because I am not American, I was surprised to see how political the supreme court appointments are, and how directly this political affiliation split the court in many cases. The course follows two main threads: the first is to introduce the supreme justices that were key in the supreme court’s important decisions or important dissents. Many central justices are analyzed, taking into account their cultural, religious and political background in relation to the way they tended to decide in court cases. The other thread is simply following the landmark supreme court cases, understanding the historical and political circumstances in which the cases were tried, and evaluating the long-lasting effects that some of these rulings had on American history. Naturally, there is a lot of interaction between the two main threads. I was not expecting this course to be so interesting. Professor Irons did an outstanding job in structuring the course to make it accessible to virtually anyone who is interested. His multi-dimensional analysis of the court - political, legal, personal, historical – gave a broad and comprehensive overview of how the court functions, its purpose and its goals. A wonderful and well taught course.
Date published: 2016-12-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant This course was like a great book that you simply could not put down. A real page turner. The lecturer is knowledgable, skilled and with high level presentational skills. Whether discussing personalities, the constitution, or cases the lecturer explained the issues clearly and made the whole subject come alive.
Date published: 2016-11-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A good history of the Court. As others have noted, Professor Irons states his liberal political beliefs upfront and this is very helpful. As a conservative, I am used to studying political matters mostly from instructors who approach things from a liberal perspective. I wish it were not so, but I have learned much from liberals without necessarily agreeing with their conclusions. We all should expect to be challenged in our thinking, especially in taking college courses. I wish universities still felt so, instead of black-balling conservative or "classical liberal" scholars. Now that I've followed his lead and stated my own biases, this course will give you a good, basic history of the Supreme Court's most well-known justices, its institutional history and its place within the American system. After the basics It will focus on cases involving the Bill of Rights and civil rights cases. These cases, Irons explains, constitute the most accessible areas of the Supreme Court's opinions and serve as examples of how the changing character of the Justices changed the Court's outlook in these areas. Irons is entertaining and engaging in his presentation, never dull, and eminently listenable. I listened to the audio version and enjoyed it on my commute. I have previously studied the Supreme Court so I was already familiar with some of the cases he will take you through. His approach is fair, balanced and true to what I remember from my Con Law undergraduate class. But there was more development here on the civil rights and free speech cases than I had received previously, which is also to say there was far LESS emphasis on cases involving property rights, government regulatory powers and the tug-of-war between business and the government. Those are fascinating, highly relevant areas of the law. They are not dull. They affect everyone. They affect people's livelihoods and ability to run their own affairs. And they are sadly short-changed in this course. I also believe a longer 2nd Edition of this course might be warranted, given that omission and the many landmark cases in civil rights AND campaign finance law AND eminent domain case law that have been handed down since 2003 when this course was produced. I'm glad I took this course and greatly appreciated the back-stories of Thurgood Marshall's involvement in the school desegregation cases before he was a Justice himself.
Date published: 2016-09-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Lecture on History of the Supreme Court Dr. Irons provides a good lecture on the history of the U.S. Supreme Court. Irons' personality seems to get reflected throughout the entire series, which allows listeners to gain insights into his passion - unquestionably the United States law. He brings buckets of relevance into his lectures and not one of them is boring or self-righteous. His lectures aren't hard to understand or track, which made the learning experience pleasurable but not altogether memorable. Lecture lengths are generally appropriate and logically follow the actual historical events of the Supreme Court. While his teaching style is positive and even enthusiastic, Irons occasionally rabbit chases with anecdotal stories which, at times, are fitting and, at times, somewhat distracting. As a whole, Dr. Irons does a good job linking each lecture and providing a solid thinking foundation for understanding the Supreme Court principal players and court room issues. Overall this series is good. It accomplishes my personal goal with any of The Great Courses lecture series which is growth in an area about which I previously knew very little. Dr. Irons, indeed, accomplishes that goal. I'll be curious to see if and when he puts out another lecture series.
Date published: 2016-09-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from supreme court supreme This is a deeply scholarly insight into all of american history.
Date published: 2016-07-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course In the past I have listened to science courses. I didn't think I would like this but it was on sale with free shipping. Dr. Irons is great, his presentation excellent and well thought out. It is the best course I have taken. I hope he will do one covering 2003 to date. i.e. part 4.
Date published: 2016-06-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course and Lecturer I have completed over 100 of these Great Courses and I would put the content and the person presenting the course in the top five percent.
Date published: 2016-06-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best Course Ever This is the best course I have purchased; I have listened to it many times, and recommended it to my students. What makes Prof. Irons great is his ability to get behind the case, and give you an understanding of why things turned out the way they did.
Date published: 2016-03-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is one of he Great Courses, great Courses. Courses 8570 and 952 should be bundled, each compliments the other. I'm in total agreement with other raters. This is an excellent course on a side of American history and the personalities that had/has major - too often unwise - impact on our life, culture, and conduct as "Americans". A branch of government that bears scrutiny, but seldom gets it in he popular media. The black robes are appropriate. WE NEED AN UPDATE, 2003 TO PRESENT. FROM PROF. IRONS. REQUEST GREAT COURSES ADVISE AVAILABILITY OF "MISSING" DISC 7. Thank you, tomn
Date published: 2016-02-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course I loved every lecture. This is an excellent course for someone considering law school. Moreover, the professor is captive and passionate about the topic. I felt that I learned a ton from listening to it. Hoping the professor does more courses regarding similar topics.
Date published: 2016-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History of the Supreme Court This is what makes the Great Course great! This Professor is at the top of his field, and his presentation is incredibly researched and presented. WARNING: he has a very strong (liberal) political persuasion. But he explains this upfront, and is good about admitting when he's injecting his own opinion. The fact that I disagree with some of his analysis, and definitely his politics, is moot. He's the expert, and I learned a tremendous amount listening to this excellent lecture series.
Date published: 2015-11-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Love or Hate Course Depending on Your Politics My first review! ...and a side of retort for the haters of the course. The course should really be called "The History of Civil Liberties in the Supreme Court from the Point of View of a Liberal Civil Liberties Lawyer"....but that is a little wordy and if you did the work to read the in-depth description and a few negative reviews before you bought it, you would have had few surprises as to its content. There is no doubt Professor Irons is liberal and the material is presented through a liberal lens without apology...but at least he admits as much right up front. If you think things like "Roots" and "The Color Purple" are important to experience to try grasp the moral struggles and debates of your ancestors whether they were the oppressed or the oppressors then this is the course for you. The material is by no means restricted to slavery and its long shadow, but it's definitely the most heavily stressed topic through the course. This may be a sore point for some, but the content and structure of the course make complete sense to me. I don't think it's hard to argue that slavery and civil rights cases were some of the most compelling and important to come to the court both at the time they were fought and today. The topic also provides a steady enough stream of cases going from the founding of the country up to pretty much the present day to get that continuous sense of history that I love. If he had stuck to the half dozen cases that I might remember something about from high school then I wouldn't have come out much more informed than I was in high school. All said, professor Irons is a great storyteller with great stories to tell. I happen to agree with Peters point of view, and in defense of The Great Courses it would be hard to make a course like this from a rosy conservative point of view. You would either have to carve out a huge portion of cases dealing with slavery and civil rights going well into the 20th century, or you would have to side with or continuously apologize for slave owners, racists, and white supremacists on the court making decisions and writing opinions like slave owners, racists, and white supremacists. I have a feeling a conservative history of the supreme court would be a lot shorter and leave out a lot of embarrassing history. So enough about that... The course also hits plenty hard on topics outside of civil rights...most notably freedom of speech. Again, a topic of hot debate both then and now and deserving of its prominence. Lastly, we get sides of religious, labor, and tax cases. Bottom line...if you are politically left or center then professor Irons is preaching to the choir and you will probably find this course enlightening beyond belief if you don't know much about the supreme court or American history in general. For conservatives with a thin skin it might feel like a character assassination of conservatives and conservatism...especially the earlier history and in the area of civil rights.
Date published: 2015-10-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History of the Supreme Court BRAVO! Professor Irons. The course on the history of the Supreme Court is the best course I have taken from the Teaching Company. Professor Irons’ approach to the course starts with providing historical background material for each issue and case, followed by a description of the facts of the case followed by a discussion of the majority and dissenting opinions, including references to the specific provisions of the Constitution being cited by each segment of the court. I found this approach to be most helpful in understanding the main legal issues being addressed in the majority and dissenting opinions. On another matter, I was somewhat taken aback by the comments of some reviewers accusing Professor Irons of extreme liberal bias. I found that the only time Professor Irons made clear his liberal views was during his coverage of the Warren Court. This court put an end to segregated schools and was the first step in placing a stake in the heart of “Jim Crow”. The court also made landmark decisions to protect free speech and the right of criminal defendants to due process. If this marks Professor Irons as a liberal, then stamp me with a large L. Do we really want to return to the “good” old days of “Jim Crow” and police beating confessions out of suspects?
Date published: 2015-09-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History of the Supreme Court Quite illuminating. Provided a heretofore unknown perspective on the circumstances, conditions, attitudes, politics of the times and an understanding of the difficulty in an ever changing world, of coping with the demands of our diverse American society and maintaining the perceived cohesiveness of our nation.
Date published: 2015-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This Is A History Course, Not a Law Course This course is exactly what I wanted - a history course. Irons provides an excellent history of the court along with short biographies of many of the justices and their political and social differences. If you want to learn about the Supreme Court, its history, and how it functions, this is the course for you. If you want to learn about constitutional law, there are several other courses which cover that material. Does Irons have a bias? Absolutely - and he is honest enough to admit it up front. Furthermore, I felt that he always presented both sides of each of the cases he covers and does so fairly. I don't understand the vitriol from some reviewers about the liberal bias of Irons. Perhaps it's because they don't like the outcomes of the cases which are covered. Full disclosure - I'm very conservative in many of my political views and didn't see the bias. In fact, I applaud Irons for admitting his liberal bias and commend him for the job he did. I was familiar with many of the cases covered since WWII and I just didn't see the bias. One of the most significant complaints by reviewers is that there are so many civil rights cases. Well, civil rights cases tend to be far more visible, and affect far more people, and tend to be far more divisive, than other types of cases. These tend to be the cases most people care about and are the subject of far more arguments. Are civil rights cases the most important cases? No, surely not. However, especially over the last 50 years, it seems to me that justices are being chosen largely based on how they'll vote on civil rights cases and that certainly makes such cases important. Civil rights cases are also interesting because they illustrate what society was like when the cases were heard. Whether you agree or disagree with the decisions, such cases paint a fascinating picture of where the country has been and where, perhaps, it is heading. I definitely recommend this course and wish that Irons would do another covering more cases and including how the court has changed since 2003 when this course was released.
Date published: 2015-03-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent History of a Vital Institution I have read numerous books on different eras of the Supreme Court. Many are by noted law professors, and most have been good to excellent. However, this class equals the best, and tops most of them. The history presented in the early lectures is as much a history of the United States as it is of the Court, and Prof. Irons' attention to the times and how things look brings these vignettes alive. But the payoff is as he gets into the details of the cases. This increases as the course continues, and we see the reasoning and the results. Professor Irons has certainly earned my respect. I have learned much in this course, and he has added to the depth of those things I thought I already knew. Well done, and thank you!
Date published: 2014-11-27
Rated 2 out of 5 by from The Real Peter Irons In my view, and this is merely my personal reaction to his course, Professor Irons is a far left socialist in the tradition of the famous Communist admirer and Stalinist supporter Professor Howard Zinn. First, Zinn and Professor Irons are personally and professionally acquainted with one another, a fact he apparently shares with his students at UCSD. Secondly, Professor Irons begins his course, not at the Court's historical inception in the 1790's as one would expect but a hundred and fifty years later in the activist courts of the mid twentieth century where he seems in special awe of the Warren Court and its Court driven social engineering. While the course is a passable history of the Supreme Court, the Professor's leftist bias and socialist beliefs emerge enough to poison the presentation for me. However, he is a learned law scholar of considerable intellectual magnitude and if you are looking for a history of the Supreme Court with a definite 1960's New Left "Living" Constitution tone, this is a course you will thoroughly enjoy.
Date published: 2014-08-25
Rated 2 out of 5 by from The History of Liberal Supreme Court Justices Professor Irons is matter-of-fact at the beginning about where his sympathies lie, but I am afraid those sympathies make the course incredibly irritating for me. This is a history of "Living, Breathing Constitutional interpretation" by the Supreme Court. Any conservative justice that views his job as ruling according to established law and precedent is dismissed with the label "reactionary", and then ignored. Those that find ways to impose their will and make law from the bench are almost universally celebrated, except for Justice Taney's Dred Scott decision. There is enough background content so that one can learn something, but it was a difficult course for me to finish, given the constant preachiness of good and evil, and triumphalism regarding what (often) amounts to legislating from the bench.
Date published: 2014-08-17
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not up to my expectations Prof. Irons honestly warns at the beggining of the course that he has his strong opinions about the court decisions and promises to try give a balanced picture. Unfortunately, he fails at that. His sympathies make this course too predictable to be interesting. His preaching manner is annoying. I already know that racism and slavery are bad, no need to nail it down again and again. While the subject is a college-level, it's presented as if for a middle school audience.
Date published: 2014-08-05
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Inaccurate course title. This is a review of the audio version of this course. I do not have, and have not seen the video version. I have many of the Great Courses and I've loved every one, until this one. This should properly be called "History of Civil Rights in the US Supreme Court." If it had that title, I would've known what I was buying and made an educated choice about how interested I was in the topic. I realizes by the time I got half way through the first lecture that I hadn't gotten what the course title described. I listened to the entire thing anyway, and while I did learn some fascinating facts and background that I hadn't known before, the presenter completely ignores or only mentions in passing any of the many extremely important cases that even I knew something about which the Court has ruled on throughout it's history, but focuses almost exclusively on civil rights cases, or rarely another case that explains how and why the court later reached a certain civil rights decision. Professor Irons is clearly passionate about his topic but it biases his presentation so badly that I found myself questioning much of what he said. Everything is in black and white, good vs evil, supporters of minorities vs white supremacists, Professor Irons point of view vs the bad guys. There is no middle ground or explanation given for some who may have supported minorities or civil rights but didn't agree with Irons point of view on a particular case due to other legal reasons. Even discussion of actual dialogue is so tainted by innuendo as to be almost impossible to hear objectively. When a Justices uses strong language to defend a position Irons approves of, he "speaks forcefully and with conviction". When another Justice uses equivalent language to defend a position Irons dislikes, he "loses his temper and raves". There are examples like this in almost every single lecture, and I could not avoid feeling like I was listening to a propaganda piece, not serious history. While I found that I agreed with many of the professors opinions, as someone expecting a nonpartisan, objective, historical study of the US Supreme Court in the many areas where it has made sweeping changes to the fabric of our law, this course was bizarrely disappointing. In conclusion, each lecture felt so manipulative that I found myself doing much more research to find out what I'd just learned was actually true, and what was not. This utterly defeats the purpose of what I believe the Great Courses stand for.
Date published: 2014-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent survey and critique I appreciated the insight into the workings of the Court and the extent of political influence on the judgments of the courts. This course presented much solid information on specific cases that influenced changes in the views of the Court on specific issues and/or solidified its position. I especially liked presentations on outstanding justices and their efforts to clarify how the spirit of the Constitution may apply to today's issues.
Date published: 2014-03-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best course so far This is the 8th course my wife and I have completed. We enjoyed them all but this is the best so far. Prof Irons preparation was so evident, each class beginning with a short, helpful of summary of the preceding class. It was beautifully organized. He forthrightly owned up to his own biases so the student could better evaluate where he stands and how that might have influenced his view of a particular case or Justice. We usually watch during and after lunch and as 70+ year olds the eyelids sometimes grow heavy. Not in this class where the half hour sessions sailed by. We did four in one day to finish the class! Highly recommended for those with some knowledge of the Court (my situation) or no advance knowledge (my wife's situation).
Date published: 2014-02-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Endlessly Facinating I was unable to stop going from lecture to lecture. This is the first course of this length that I completed virtually non-stop, completing all 18 hours of lectures in less than 3 days! The course is a mixture of law, history and biography. Legal issues revolve around three major themes: - continuity and change; - consensus and conflict; - and diversity in American society. The course was divided into three periods: - 1790 (Chief Justice John Jay) to 1921 (Chief Justice Edward White); - 1921 (Chief Justice William Howard Taft) to 1953 (Chief Justice Vinson); - 1953 (Chief Justice Warren) to 2003 (Chief Justice Renquist). As key cases were introduced, the historical context of each was discussed and positions of the various justices and plaintiffs were presented in that context. The cases dealt the kinds of cases the court can hear; the supremacy of court rulings; Slavery; states rights (in various contexts); contracts versus Government control; right to council; free speech (in various contexts); equal rights (in various contexts); etc. How various justices and particularly Chief Justices were chosen was discussed. Prof. Irons makes it easy to understand what is otherwise a complex interaction of people, the law, and the Constitution as it is overseen by our ever evolving Supreme Court. This is an important contribution to any US citizen's education.
Date published: 2014-01-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Tour de Force I am an experienced civil rights attorney and I bought this course anticipating it would be too basic with the intention of giving it away. Instead, the Professor made the material both interesting to the practitioner and accessible to the layman. Great course.
Date published: 2013-12-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Supreme Court Insightful, informative, clearly presented history of the Court. The inquiring mind is satisfied. Many memorable cases. Clear use of facts, issues, outcomes and how cases affected history.
Date published: 2013-09-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Among top three of 33 Audio CD purchases I've made Peter Irons highlights the critical cases before the Court from its inception to the near present day. He is a gifted speaker and lecturer and has a keen ability to explain complex legal issues and decisions to the layman. This course is invaluable to comprehend the Supreme Court today in reference to the cases and decisions rendered over the past. I have listened to many lectures three and four times to retain the specifics, in the car and at home. I cannot recommend this course enough if you want to have a much better understanding of the history of this nation as impacted by the Supremes decisions. I only buy audios where possible, and I would pay full sticker price for this course and know it is a bargain.
Date published: 2013-07-23
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