Keith E. Whittington

William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics

Princeton University


Return to Home Page



Political Foundations of Judicial Supremacy: The Presidency, the Supreme Court, and Constitutional Leadership in U.S. History


Winner of the C. Herman Pritchett Award for best book in Law and Courts

Winner of the J. David Greenstone Award for best book in Politics and History



Should the Supreme Court have the last word when it comes to interpreting the Constitution? The justices on the Supreme Court certainly seem to think so--and their critics say that this position threatens democracy. But Keith Whittington argues that the Court's justices have not simply seized power and circumvented politics. The justices have had power thrust upon them--by politicians, for the benefit of politicians. In this sweeping political history of judicial supremacy in America, Whittington shows that presidents and political leaders of all stripes have worked to put the Court on a pedestal and have encouraged its justices to accept the role of ultimate interpreters of the Constitution.

Whittington examines why presidents have often found judicial supremacy to be in their best interest, why they have rarely assumed responsibility for interpreting the Constitution, and why constitutional leadership has often been passed to the courts. The unprecedented assertiveness of the Rehnquist Court in striking down acts of Congress is only the most recent example of a development that began with the founding generation itself. Presidential bids for constitutional leadership have been rare, but reflect the temporary political advantage in doing so. Far more often, presidents have cooperated in increasing the Court's power and encouraging its activism. Challenging the conventional wisdom that judges have usurped democracy, Whittington shows that judicial supremacy is the product of democratic politics.

Praise for Political Foundations of Judicial Supremacy:

"Political Foundations of Judicial Supremacy takes us deeper than ever before into the changing structure and politics of inter-branch relations. Historically comprehensive and analytically astute, Whittington's sweeping reformulation of the role of the Supreme Court alters our entire view of American government."

            Stephen Skowronek, Yale University


“This extremely important study lays out the ways in which the U.S. tradition of judicial supremacy receives support from elected representatives. Whittington's arguments are elegant, clearly presented, and persuasive.”

            Mark Tushnet, Harvard Law School


“This is a major work by a major scholar. Whittington highlights for the first time unnoticed patterns in the political construction of judicial power and the growth of judicial authority in the United States. The historical evidence is complete and compelling.”

            Mark Graber, University of Maryland


"Filled with numerous examples and insightful analysis, Political Foundations of Judicial Supremacy offers a fascinating behind-the-scenes guide to the politics of judicial review that is impressive in both scope and depth."

            Harvard Law Review


"A pleasure to read and an excellent contribution to our understanding of judicial supremacy within our separated political system."

            Perspectives on Politics

Published Reviews of Political Foundations of Judicial Supremacy:

Harvard Law Review (June 2007)

Law and Politics Book Review (August 2007)

Choice (October 2007)

New York Law Journal (November 2007)

Perspectives on Politics (December 2007)

Engage (February 2008)

Yale Law Journal (March 2008)

Political Science Quarterly (Spring 2008)

The Green Bag (Summer 2008)

Review of Politics (Summer 2008)

Constitutional Law and Policy Review (June 2008)

Law and History Review (Fall 2008)



Princeton University Press

March 2006 (March 2009) (Chinese translation 2010)

320 pages, cloth, paper

ISBN 978-0-691-09640-7 (cl)

$35.00 (cl), $19.95 (pb)

Table of Contents

Princeton University Press description



Return to Home Page