The Most Activist Supreme Court

Reviews                    Research Updates                Order Online


When conservatives took control of the federal judiciary in the 1980s, it was widely assumed that they would reverse the landmark rights-protecting precedents set by the Warren Court and replace them with a broad commitment to judicial restraint. Instead, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice William Rehnquist has reaffirmed most of those liberal decisions while also creating its own brand of conservative judicial activism.

Ranging from 1937 to 2004, The Most Activist Supreme Court in Historytraces the legal and political forces that have shaped the modern Court. Thomas Keck argues that the tensions within modern conservatism have produced a Court that exercises its own power quite actively, on behalf of both liberal and conservative ends. Despite the long-standing conservative commitment to restraint, the justices of the Rehnquist Court have stepped in to settle divisive political conflicts over abortion, affirmative action, gay rights—even a presidential election. Keck focuses in particular on the role of Justices O’Connor and Kennedy, whose deciding votes have shaped this uncharacteristically activist Court. No other book has delved as deeply into the jurisprudential and ideological priorities of the Rehnquist Court.

The book has been favorably reviewed in the Annual Review of Political Science, ChoiceFindLaw’s Writ, the Law and Politics Book Reviewthe New York Law Journal, Trial, and The Washington MonthlyWriting in The New Republic, Jeffrey Rosen has called the book “provocative” (and endorsed its central thesis), while Choice says that “[i]f you read just one book on the history of the modern Supreme Court, this should probably be the one.” Howard Gillman calls it “superb. A thoughtful, comprehensive, and balanced account of the rise of modern conservative activism in the United States Supreme Court.” Click here for all the latest news and reviews.

The book has received some attention in the blogosphere as well, with discussions on FiveThirtyEight.comBalkinization (andhere), ACSBlogPopPoliticsPrawfsBlawgSivacracy.netThe Last Chance Democracy Cafe, and this mention at the Washington Post. The author discusses the book in interviews at The American Prospect and

The book is available for purchase from the University of Chicago, or

Return to Tom Keck’s home page