Weaving legal, political, and social history, Cohen creates a richly detailed, but accessible, account for all interested in the personalities and politics that have shaped and are continuing to shape not only the U.S. criminal justice system but also the fabric of American life. A must-read.
The book is a liberal cri de coeur, a lamentation of the many distinct and specific ways American society might be fairer, more equal and more humane if that one consequential change, the court’s decisive shift to the right under Nixon, had not occurred ... Most of the cases Cohen describes are well known to lawyers and law professors who work in those fields. But Cohen’s project is to bring these stories to a much broader audience. In that way, the book succeeds ... The book is less successful in drawing tight links between the court’s lurch to the right and the promise of the book’s title: an explanation of the rising inequality in the United States. The first chapters, which cover the rise and fall of the court’s rulings protecting the poor, are excellent. But explaining why the court pulled back from its project of protecting the rights of the poor does not really tell us why inequality has skyrocketed in this country over the past half-century ... Unconcerned with inside tales of intrigue and contingency, Cohen is content to simply tell us what the court decided. The book uses almost no inside sources. It offers precious few tales of internal drama. The drama, for Cohen, is there on the surface of the opinions ... This story does not explain every decision of the court for the past 50 years. But it explains a very high share of the important ones, both the famous rulings and those a little further from the limelight, in which the court has worked gradually and with surprisingly little fanfare to unravel the achievements of the only significant period in American history in which it regularly sided with the poor and other marginalized people.
Cohen is uniquely qualified to write this book ... Cohen’s lucid writing makes even the most difficult court cases understandable as he expertly details the evolution of the law in areas as diverse as the workplace, criminal law, campaign contributions and the corporate boardroom. Cohen’s greatest strength, however, is his ability to explain clearly and urgently how the court, supposedly the least political of the three branches of the government, has relentlessly pursued a political agenda that has made Americans less equal and less secure ... If nothing else, Supreme Inequality reveals the extensive role the court plays in everyday American life. More importantly, it is a sobering history of how the court has disregarded precedent, statutory law and common sense to achieve its political agenda. The only question that remains is if it’s too late to do anything about it.