Book Roundup

07Jul11

A couple Brandeis and Harlan related books have come into the library lately and I thought I should at least mention them.

The first is Anita Whitney, Louis Brandeis, and the First Amendment by Haig Bosmajian (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2010.) It is, of course, about Brandeis’ famous opinion in Whitney v. California (274 US 357.) Professor Bosmajian tells the little known story of Anita Whitney, the “socialist socialite” whose tireless championing of progressive causes in the post WWI years earned her a 14 year prison sentence in California.  Bosmajian does a good job describing the progressive causes of the early 20th century and how the post WWI red scare resulted in state laws that made many activities we take granted today illegal. He also describes in great detail Whitney’s trial and the confused nature of the charges against her. Professor Bosmajian is a professor of rhetoric, so he also devotes a chapter to analyzing Brandeis’ opinion itself, both for Brandeis’ use of rhetorical devices and for a look at how Brandeis incorporated his earlier unpublished opinion in Ruthenberg v. Michigan. Of particular interest for me was his explanation of how this opinion, one of the Supreme Court’s strongest defenses of free speech, became a concurring opinion upholding Whitney’s conviction.

The book is not perfect however. The subject seems better suited for a journal article and as a result the book feels padded and repetitious in many places. Also, there are a few basic factual errors that the book’s editor should have caught. (For instance, two different years are given for the date of the death of Quaker Mary Dyer, and even worse, at one point he describes Brandeis’ sister-in-law Susan Goldmark as his daughter.) But overall, the book is an interesting look at the back story of one of Brandeis’ most famous writings.

We also received Inherently Unequal: the Betrayal of Equal Rights by the Supreme Court, 1865-1903 by Lawrence Goldstone (Walker and Company, 2011.) While this well written book is not about John Marshall Harlan per se, it discusses nearly all of Harlan’s civil rights opinions and places them in context with the actions and philosophies of the other Supreme Court justices of the era, and thereby ought to be of interest of all Harlan scholars.

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