Barry Friedman


On his book The Will of the People: How Public Opinion Has Influenced the Supreme Court and Shaped the Meaning of the Constitution

Cover Interview of April 03, 2011

In a nutshell

Most people who think about it, no doubt, consider the US Supreme Court to be the protector of minority and constitutional rights against majority oppression.

But is that right?

In The Will of the People I argue that, on the major issues, over time, the Justices tend to come into line with popular opinion.

At its core The Will of the People is a historical narrative of the relationship between public opinion and Supreme Court decisions.  It tells this story from Independence to 2005, when Chief Justice Rehnquist dies.  Covered along the way are major cases and events like the full story of Marbury v. Madison (the Supreme Court’s most misunderstood case), the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Movement, the Bork nomination, Roe v. Wade, Bush v. Gore, and the fight over affirmation action.

The meat of the book is not the telling of these stories, though each is interesting.  I have painstakingly researched how the public reacted to them, and how those reactions influenced the Justices on the Supreme Court.

Is it good for the Supreme Court to be responsive to the popular will?  This is hardly what the Framers imagined.  I leave my answer to readers of the book.