The Great Decision: Jefferson, Adams, Marshall, and the Battle for the Supreme Court

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9781586484262: The Great Decision: Jefferson, Adams, Marshall, and the Battle for the Supreme Court

In 1800, the United States teetered on the brink of a second revolution. The presidential election between Adams and Jefferson was a bitterly contested tie, and the government neared collapse. The Supreme Court had no clear purpose or power—no one had even thought to build it a courtroom in the new capital city. When Adams sought to prolong his policies in defiance of the electorate by packing the courts, the fine words of the new Constitution could do nothing to stop him. It would take a man to make those words good, and America found him in John Marshall.

The Great Decision tells the riveting story of Marshall and of the landmark court case, Marbury v. Madison, through which he empowered the Supreme Court and transformed the idea of the separation of powers into a working blueprint for our modern state. Rich in atmospheric detail, political intrigue, and fascinating characters, The Great Decision is an illuminating tale of America's formative years and of the evolution of our democracy.

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About the Author :

Cliff Sloan is a former Supreme Court clerk and former publisher of Slate Magazine. He has written about the Supreme Court for many publications, including Newsweek, The Washington Post, and Slate, and frequently appears on television and radio to discuss the Court. He lives in Virginia.

David McKean is a top-level Senate aide and a veteran political strategist, and the author of Friends in High Places and Tommy the Cork. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Review :

Kirkus, December 15, 2008
“Former Supreme Court clerk and Slate publisher Sloan and veteran political aide McKean bring to life one of the most important legal cases in American history.... Sloan and McKean supply Marbury’s historical context and unravel the complex fabric of personalities, politics and law that animated the case.... The authors’ enthusiasm and clear prose vivify the contention that, as Marshall said, ‘It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.’ A crisp, color examination of the case that established the formidable power of the federal judiciary.”

Walter Isaacson, author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life
“The Supreme Court case of Marbury v. Madison is the most important key to understanding the separation of power in American government. The Great Decision makes the tale come alive. It’s filled with intrigue, colorful personalities, and political maneuvers that seem astonishingly relevant to our world today.”

Douglas Brinkley, Professor of History at Rice University
“What a deeply intelligent and well written analysis of the Madison v. Marbury case. Anyone interested in constitutional law must read this fine book by Cliff Sloan and David McKean.”

Laurence H. Tribe, Carl M. Loeb University Professor, Harvard Law School
“As our nation emerges from a dark decade of disrespect for the Constitution, nothing could be more fitting than a new picture of the great decision that made the rule of law a living part of the American legacy. Forests have been felled writing about that decision as a legal landmark, but its place in the turbulent politics and psychology of the time has never been painted in colors more vivid than those with which Sloan and McKean created this historic portrait.”

Ken Burns, Filmmaker
“Cliff Sloan and David McKean have taken the story of Marbury v. Madison and revealed it to be what it always was: a drama of the first order—superbly and fluidly rendered here—and a decision that would cement the power of the third and most neglected leg of the tripod that still to this day supports us all."

Booklist, 3/1
“In this highly accessible book, the authors skillfully build suspense and tension around an outcome readers may already know.”

Jan Crawford Greenburg, ABC’s Legal Correspondent, ABC.com, February 25, 2009
“Whoever thought that Marbury v Madison could be a page turner? Landmark constitutional law, yes, but a nail-biting drama crafted in dimly lit hotel rooms in Washington? Filled with memorable players such as "Old Bacon Face" Justice Samuel Chase and a slovenly Thomas Jefferson? Cliff Sloan and David McKean's new book, The Great Decision, tells a wonderful tale of how the decision -- which established that the Supreme Court had the power to declare an act of Congress unconstitutional -- came to be. To produce this impressive and gripping narrative, they culled newspaper accounts and diaries and conducted a wide-ranging array of interviews, including with Justice John Paul Stevens, who went back and analyzed his law school notes -- which he apparently has kept all these years.”

Library Journal, 3/1
“A lucid and compelling account of the well-known but seldom understood court battle that secured the place of the judiciary as a coordinate branch of the federal government.... Sloan and McKean have given generalists and academics alike a fascinating, straightforward narrative.”

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