Political Foundations of Judicial Supremacy

The Presidency, the Supreme Court, and Constitutional Leadership in U.S. History

Political Foundations of Judicial Supremacy: The Presidency, the Supreme Court, and Constitutional Leadership in U.S. History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007) Buy It!

Winner of the C. Herman Pritchett Award for Best Book in Law and Courts, American Political Science Association

Winner of the J. David Greenstone Award for Best Book in Politics and History, American Political Science Association

Part of the Princeton Studies in American Politics: Historical, International, and Comparative Perspectives series

Princeton University Press description

Should the Supreme Court have the last word when it comes to interpreting the Constitution? The justices on the Supreme Court certainly seem to think so--and their critics say that this position threatens democracy. But Keith Whittington argues that the Court's justices have not simply seized power and circumvented politics. The justices have had power thrust upon them--by politicians, for the benefit of politicians. In this sweeping political history of judicial supremacy in America, Whittington shows that presidents and political leaders of all stripes have worked to put the Court on a pedestal and have encouraged its justices to accept the role of ultimate interpreters of the Constitution.

Whittington examines why presidents have often found judicial supremacy to be in their best interest, why they have rarely assumed responsibility for interpreting the Constitution, and why constitutional leadership has often been passed to the courts. The unprecedented assertiveness of the Rehnquist Court in striking down acts of Congress is only the most recent example of a development that began with the founding generation itself. Presidential bids for constitutional leadership have been rare, but reflect the temporary political advantage in doing so. Far more often, presidents have cooperated in increasing the Court's power and encouraging its activism. Challenging the conventional wisdom that judges have usurped democracy, Whittington shows that judicial supremacy is the product of democratic politics.


"[A] model of what scholarly work should be." -- Kenneth Ward, Law and Politics Book Review

"A pleasure to read and an excellent contribution to our understanding of judicial supremacy within our separated political system." -- Christine Nemacheck, Perspectives on Politics

"[O]ne of a handful of works on constitutional history and theory written in the last decade that everyone interested in those subjects should read." -- Mark Tushnet, Constitutional Commentary

"Whittington continues to demonstrate why he is one of today's most important constitutional scholars. Political Foundations of Judicial Supremacy is essential reading for anyone interested in American politics." -- Artemus Ward, Congress & the Presidency

"This book stands out as the best and most sophisticated study of the problem of 'who interprets' in the American context." -- Walter F. Murphy, Law and History Review

"Filled with numerous examples and insightful analysis, Political Foundations of Judicial Supremacy offers a fascinating behind-the-scenes guide to the politics of judicial review that is impressive in both scope and depth." -- Harvard Law Review

"Whittington combines a superb knowledge of Supreme Court history with a sophisticated understanding of the history and dynamics of American political instiutions." -- Thomas W. Merrill, Engage