On Democracy's Doorstep: The Inside Story of How the Supreme Court Brought "One Person, One Vote" to the United States

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Winner of the Henry Adams Prize from the Society for History in the Federal Government
A Washington Post Notable Work of Nonfiction
A Slate Best Book of 2014

The inside story of the Supreme Court decisions that brought true democracy to the United States

As chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Earl Warren is most often remembered for landmark rulings in favor of desegregation and the rights of the accused. But Warren himself identified a lesser known group of cases—Baker v. Carr, Reynolds v. Sims, and their companions—as his most important work. J. Douglas Smith's On Democracy's Doorstep masterfully recounts the tumultuous and often overlooked events that established the principle of "one person, one vote" in the United States.

Before the Warren Court acted, American democracy was in poor order. As citizens migrated to urban areas, legislative boundaries remained the same, giving rural lawmakers from sparsely populated districts disproportionate political power—a power they often used on behalf of influential business interests. Smith shows how activists ranging from city boosters in Tennessee to the League of Women Voters worked to end malapportionment, incurring the wrath of chambers of commerce and southern segregationists as they did so. Despite a conspiracy of legislative inaction and a 1946 Supreme Court decision that instructed the judiciary not to enter the "political thicket," advocates did not lose hope. As Smith shows, they skillfully used the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause to argue for radical judicial intervention. Smith vividly depicts the unfolding drama as Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy pressed for change, Solicitor General Archibald Cox cautiously held back, young clerks pushed the justices toward ever-bolder reform, and the powerful Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen obsessively sought to reverse the judicial revolution that had upended state governments from California to Virginia.

Today, following the Court's recent controversial decisions on voting rights and campaign finance, the battles described in On Democracy's Doorstep have increasing relevance. With erudition and verve, Smith illuminates this neglected episode of American political history and confronts its profound consequences.

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About the author

J. Douglas Smith is the author of Managing White Supremacy: Race, Politics, and Citizenship in Jim Crow Virginia, which received the 2003 Library of Virginia Literary Award in Nonfiction. He is the director of humanities at the Colburn Music Conservatory and lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two children.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Hill and Wang
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Published on
Jun 10, 2014
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Pages
384
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ISBN
9780374712082
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Language
English
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Genres
Political Science / American Government / Judicial Branch
Political Science / Political Ideologies / Democracy
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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'A nation without a national government is an awful spectacle.' In the winter of 1787-8 a series of eighty-five essays appeared in the New York press; the purpose of the essays was to persuade the citizens of New York State to ratify the Constitution of the United States. The three authors - Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay - were respectively the first Secretary of the Treasury, the fourth President, and the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in American history. Each had played a crucial role in the events of the American Revolution; together they were convinced of the need to weld thirteen disparate and newly-independent states into a union. Their essays make the case for a new and united nation, governed under a written Constitution that endures to this day. The Federalist Papers are an indispensable guide to the intentions of the founding fathers who created the United States, and a canonical text in the development of western political thought. This new edition pays full attention to the classical learning of their authors and the historical examples they deploy. ABOUT THE SERIES: For over 100 years Oxford World's Classics has made available the widest range of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford's commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, helpful notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more.
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