Hugo Black and William O. Douglas, two of the towering Supreme Court justices of this century, formed a fascinating personal and professional relationship that lasted for more than 30 years, from the 1930s to the 1970s. Together, they were embroiled in some of the most momentous social, political, and economic conflicts in American history. While many observers of the Supreme Court have regarded them as having a uniquely close alliance at the core of the Warren Court, they were quite different jurists, marching to very distinct drummers. Of Power and Right tells the story of this curious relationship and the turbulent era in which it took place.
Hugo Black was a much admired, congenial man. A gracious Southerner, he could be as hard and immovable as granite once he'd made up his mind. An ardent advocate of free speech and press, he was a Puritan who had difficulty accepting behavior outside his own personal standard of morality. For him, the fundamental issue was the power of the people to govern, first through the Constitution, and then, where the Constitution was not clear, through their elected officials. William O. Douglas was a very different man. Tough and even petulant, he could also be extremely shy and sensitive. A staunch defender of the Court and its role, he was often willing to plunge it into the middle of society's most divisive debates. He believed first and foremost in individual rights, and believed that the Court's most important job was keeping government off the backs of the people. Though close on and off the job, the two men frequently clashed over this fundamental difference between power and right.
The Black-Douglas years saw unprecedented social and political upheavals, from the New Deal and the civil rights movement to the Vietnam War, and the Supreme Court was called upon time and again to reexamine and often fundamentally alter definitions of equality and liberty in every area of American life. Howard Ball and Phillip Cooper chronicle each man's confrontation with the issues before the court and the often heated debates that resulted. They develop the central tension in American political life between democratically exercised power and individual freedom that so often occupied Black and Douglas and about which they so often differed. In so doing, the authors paint a full and compelling portrait not just of Black and Douglas, but of the institution of the Supreme Court during these years, showing us a Court that is more human, more politically aware, and more diverse than we have traditionally seen. The friendship of Hugo Black and William O. Douglas, and the differences that divided them, provide a unique window on the Supreme Court and the society it serves.show more