In recent years the justices of the Supreme Court have ruled definitively on such issues as abortion, bans on school prayer and on guns, gay and lesbian equality, campaign financing, and the administration’s use of military tribunals in the war on terror. They decided one of American history’s most contested presidential elections. Yet, for all their power, the justices never face election and hold their offices for life. This combination of influence and apparent unaccountability has led many to complain that there is something illegitimate—even undemocratic—about judicial authority.
The Will of the People challenges that claim by showing that the Court has always been subject to a higher power: the American public. Judicial positions have been abolished, the justices’ jurisdiction has been stripped, the Court has been packed, and unpopular decisions have been defied. Contrary to popular wisdom, the justices aren’t Olympian. Americans have always managed to make them aware of their political vulnerability. And for at least the last sixty years, the justices have made sure that their decisions do not stray too far from public opinion.
This sweeping historical account of the relationship between popular opinion and the Supreme Court—from the Declaration of Independence to the end of Rehnquist Court in 2005—details how the American people came to accept their most controversial institution. Marshaling countless sources—including newspaper editorials, diaries, public debates, and private letters, as well as countless court cases—The Will of the People shows how the American public came to embrace judicial power, and in so doing, helped shape the meaning of the Constitution itself.