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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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Description

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.

From Publishers Weekly

Apr 14, 2014 – The link between voting and democracy in the United States has most often been examined through efforts to expand the electorate. In the post-Revolution period this meant eliminating property qualifications for free white adult men, while after the Civil War the emphasis shifted to the universal suffrage campaigns of African-Americans and women that lasted well into the 20th century. Yet as historian Smith (Managing White Supremacy) ably demonstrates, beginning in the late 19th century, malapportionment the uneven representation of constituents by lawmakers became the most serious threat to political equality. Soon, many states determined representation according to area or district rather than (or sometimes in addition to) population figures. Malapportionment, yet another way for native-born whites to maintain power, became obvious after WWII and coincided with an upswing in civil rights activism. The remedy came through legal challenges via the Supreme Court during the 1960s; as the Court dismantled malapportionment in cases like Baker v. Carr, political drama kicked into high gear as opponents nearly triggered a constitutional crisis in their desperation to hold onto power. Though Smith takes a novel angle and writes with a light touch, it will appeal more to an academic audience. Illus.
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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  • $9.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Politics & Current Events
  • Published: Jun 10, 2014
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Seller: Macmillan / Holtzbrinck Publishers, LLC
  • Print Length: 384 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.5 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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