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The Law of the Land: A History of the Supreme Court by Kermit Hall

The Law of the Land: A History of the Supreme Court

by Kermit Hall

Title Details

Audio Original
Running Time
8 Hrs. 15 Min.


The Judiciary in general and the Supreme Court of the United States in particular represent the republic’s most unusual and least understood branch of government. Unlike the elected executive and legislative branches, the justices of the Supreme Court are appointed and serve during good behavior. Therefore they enjoy a degree of independence from the direct winds of politics that truly sets them apart. Moreover, while the cases before them are always heard in public, they are always decided in private—in conferences that the justices alone attend. What goes on both in open court and behind closed doors? What is the decision-making process and what considerations are taken into account? To what degree do tradition, politics, and precedent play a role? How are the justices, through their decisions, direct interpreters of constitutional law?

This course explores the court as a living, breathing institution—one subject to the press of public opinion yet removed from its direct impact—one whose members have as often as not been vilified or praised. Listeners will come to know the court through a thorough study of its most significant decisions. The individual lectures explore both the personalities and legal reasoning behind, as well as the political impact of, these landmark cases. In the end, students will arrive at a solid understandingof the high court, its justices, its traditions, and, most importantly, its impact on the American Republic, not only today, but over the previous two centuries.

Kermit L. Hall's many works include The Magic Mirror: Law in American History. He is editor-in-chief of the award-winning Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States and the Oxford Companion to American Law. Professor Hall holds a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, an MSL from Yale Law School, and is a professor of history at and the president of Utah State University.

Lecture 1 The Judicial Power, Jurisdiction, and the Ages of the Supreme Court

Lecture 2 The Establishment of Judicial Review: Marbury v. Madison (1803)

Lecture 3 Privilege and Creative Destruction: Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge (1837)

Lecture 4 Equality, Slavery and the Supreme Court Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857)

Lecture 5 Native American Sovereignty, Congress and the Constitution: Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock (1903)

Lecture 6 Liberty to Contract in the Industrial Age Lochner v. New York (1905)

Lecture 7 Clear and Present Danger, the First Amendment and Total War: Abrams v. United States

Lecture 8 A Switch in Time: West Coast v. Parrish

Lecture 9 Japanese Internment and Total War Korematsu v. United States (1944)

Lecture 10 Simple Justice Brown v. Board of Education (1954, 1955)

Lecture 11 Women, Abortion, and Equality Roe v. Wade (1973)

Lecture 12 Presidential Immunity and Watergate United States v. Nixon (1974)

Lecture 13 Affirmative Action: Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978)

Lecture 14 The Ten Greatest Justices of the Supreme Court

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