The study of law and the courts in political science has a long but complicated relationship with historical studies in political science and the study of American political development (APD). Political scientists interested in the politics of law and courts have integrated developmental themes and historical approaches from the founding of the discipline, and historical sensibilities have been a persistent feature of legal scholarship in the discipline over time. As a consequence, many public law scholars were naturally interested in the rise of the American political development literature and the return of historical work to political science generally. Even so, historical studies within legal scholarship and the study of law and courts within the American political development literature proper have often followed distinct paths. Historically minded legal scholars and APD scholars have not always found themselves in common conversations. There is reason for optimism in thinking that the paths of those two bodies of scholarship might cross more often in the future, but regardless scholars working primarily in the law are likely to continue to make important contributions to the study of politics and history.
State constitutional law and state constitutions are generally understudied, and the historical development of state constitutionalism is particularly understudied. In some ways, state constitutionalism mirrors developments at the national level, but in other ways states are distinctive. One of the distinctive features of state constitutions relates to the conceptual distinction between the public and the private. At the national level, the public/private distinction in the economic realm largely collapsed, and the vague provisions of the U.S. Constitution facilitated that collapse. At the state level, however, constitutional text often embodied features of the public/private distinction, putting more pressure on judges to try to understand and implement the distinction even in the midst of the crisis of the Great Depression and the political and constitutional struggles of the New Deal.
The Great Depression and the advent of the New Deal stimulated one of the most important constitutional transformations in American history. The "constitutional revolution" of 1937 remade federal constitutional law in areas ranging from federalism and separation of powers to individual rights and state police powers. Remarkably little work has bee done on the history of the development of state constitutional law and the politics of the exercise of judicial review in the states. This article examines the exercise of judicial review by high courts in a sample of states between 1925 and 1945. This was a period of remarkable conflict and change at the federal level, but state-level judicial review shows little evidence of the type of struggle that roiled national politics. There was far more continuity and stability in state constitutional law, even as state governments also struggled to deal with economic crisis and liberal Democrats rose to power in state capitals. State courts were not simply deferential to the work of the state legislatures, but the judicial veto raised few insuperable obstacles to reform at the state level. The struggles surrounding the Hughes Court appear increasingly idiosyncratic when placed in a broader context.
The power of judicial review is one of the more distinctive features of the American constitutional system. The “fundamental law” quality of American constitutions and the possibility of judicial interpretation and enforcement of their provisions were often taken to be key features distinguishing the new constitutional system from the British inheritance. This chapter focuses on the contemporary exercise of judicial review. After delineating the scope of the institution, the chapter turns to conceptual and normative issues associated with the exercise of judicial review. It then reviews the literature on how judicial review is practiced in the American system.
This monograph provides a concise, accessible overview of the history of the development and exercise of judicial review over the course of American history, with a particular focus on the U.S. Supreme Court. The development of constitutional law by the courts is also situated within the broader context of the engagement with the requirements of constitutional rules by political actors. American governance has been shaped by both judicial efforts to interpret and enforce the fundamental law and by developments outside the courts that have helped reshape regnant conceptions of constitutional requirements and deployed an array of mechanisms for enforce constitutional understandings.