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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Macmillan, Jun 10, 2014 - Political Science - 370 pages

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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User Review  - MyPenNameOnly - LibraryThing

I received a copy of this book through a giveaway on GoodReads and the following is my honest opinion. In high school history had always been my best subject with about a 93 average, from the 10th to ... Read full review

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User Review  - Schmerguls - LibraryThing

This is a superb book which tells the full story of the apportionmnet cases, decided by the Supreme Court in the early 1960's. It tells of the lawyers who brought the cases, the arguments before the ... Read full review

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About the author (2014)

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 the executive director of the Los Angeles Service Academy, a program that teaches students how the political, social, and environmental infrastructure of metropolitan Los Angeles works. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two children.

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