[UCP Books]: Nixon's Court

“Emphasizing Richard Nixon’s use of the power to nominate Supreme Court justices and his articulation of constitutional views as an electoral strategy rather than an ideological one, Nixon’s Court provides a powerful account of why the Burger Court was less conservative than many hoped (and feared) it would be. Kevin McMahon’s important argument connecting presidential electoral concerns to developments in constitutional law makes clear some previously obscured facets of the Supreme Court’s work in the late twentieth century.”

Mark Tushnet, Harvard Law School


Nixon’s Court
His Challenge to Judicial Liberalism and Its Political Consequences
Kevin J. McMahon

Publication Date: October 31, 2011 $29.00 • £20.00
International publication date: November 14, 2011 978-0-226-56119-6 (cloth)
This month marks the fortieth anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s nomination of his final two justices, Lewis Powell and William Rehnquist, to the Supreme Court of the United States. With four appointments—and the departure of three liberal justices—in the space of just two and a half years, Nixon had the opportunity to alter constitution doctrine. Most analysts, however, have deemed Nixon’s efforts to do so a failure. Here Kevin J. McMahon offers an alternative assessment. Viewing Nixon’s judicial strategy as part political and part legal, McMahon argues that Nixon succeeded substantially on both counts.

Many of the issues dear to social conservatives, such as abortion and school prayer, were not nearly as important to Nixon. Consequently, his nominations for the Supreme Court were chosen primarily to advance his “law and order” and school desegregation agendas—agendas the Court eventually endorsed. But there were also political motivations to Nixon’s approach: he wanted his judicial policy to be conservative enough to attract white southerners and northern white ethnics disgruntled with the Democratic Party but not so conservative as to drive away independents and moderates in his own party. In essence, then, he used his criticisms of the Court to speak to members of his “silent majority” in hopes of disrupting the long-dominant New Deal Democratic coalition. For McMahon, Nixon’s judicial strategy succeeded not only in shaping the course of constitutional law in the areas he most desired but also in laying the foundation of an electoral alliance that would dominate presidential politics for a generation.
Kevin J. McMahon is the John R. Reitemeyer and Charles A. Dana Research Associate Professor of Political Science at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. His previous book, Reconsidering Roosevelt on Race, is also published by the University of Chicago Press.
Please contact Micah Fehrenbacher at (773) 702-7717 or micahf@uchicago.edu for more information.


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