Justice Deferred: Race and the Supreme Court

Regular price $ 35.00

by Orville Vernon Burton and Armand Derfner

Harvard University Press

05/31/2021, hardcover

SKU: 9780674975644


In the first comprehensive accounting of the US Supreme Court's race-related jurisprudence, a distinguished historian and renowned civil rights lawyer scrutinize a legacy too often blighted by racial injustice.

The Supreme Court is usually seen as protector of our liberties: it ended segregation, was a guarantor of fair trials, and safeguarded free speech and the vote. But this narrative derives mostly from a short period, from the 1930s to the early 1970s. Before then, the Court spent a century largely ignoring or suppressing basic rights, while the fifty years since 1970 have witnessed a mostly accelerating retreat from racial justice.

From the Cherokee Trail of Tears to Brown v. Board of Education to the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act, historian Orville Vernon Burton and civil rights lawyer Armand Derfner shine a powerful light on the Court's race record--a legacy at times uplifting, but more often distressing and sometimes disgraceful. For nearly a century, the Court ensured that the nineteenth-century Reconstruction Amendments would not truly free and enfranchise African Americans. And the twenty-first century has seen a steady erosion of commitments to enforcing hard-won rights.

Justice Deferred is the first book that comprehensively charts the Court's race jurisprudence. Addressing nearly two hundred cases involving America's racial minorities, the authors probe the parties involved, the justices' reasoning, and the impact of individual rulings. We learn of heroes such as Thurgood Marshall; villains, including Roger Taney; and enigmas like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Hugo Black. Much of the fragility of civil rights in America is due to the Supreme Court, but as this sweeping history also reminds us, the justices still have the power to make good on the country's promise of equal rights for all.


"This comprehensive history demonstrates a hard truth in America: the highest court has most often been on the wrong side of racial justice. From the heartbreak of Dred Scott to the promise of Brown v. Board of Education to current efforts to roll back voting rights, Justice Deferred reminds us that the fight for justice requires our constant vigilance." -- Ibram X. Kendi, author of Stamped from the Beginning  and How to Be an Antiracist

"Eminent historian Vernon Burton and distinguished civil rights lawyer Armand Derfner have produced a marvelous, comprehensive history of race and the Supreme Court. Justice Deferred is a thoroughly engaging and accessible book on an essential subject." -- Mary Frances Berry, former chair, United States Commission on Civil Rights

"Justice Deferred plumbs, with magisterial sweep and resonant clarity, the Supreme Court's wrestling with white America's commitment to the politics of domination. For ten of our nation's twelve generations, no massacre has been too bloody, no injustice too stark, for the Court to defend. Excruciating legal battles have brought evanescent victories. Always, justice requires us to struggle against the sin of forgetfulness, and this book strikes a mighty blow, calling us to the struggles of our time and reminding us that higher ground awaits." -- Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, Co-chair, Poor People's Campaign

About the Authors:

Orville Vernon Burton is the prizewinning author of several books, including The Age of Lincoln. He is Judge Matthew J. Perry Jr. Distinguished Professor of History at Clemson University and Emeritus University Scholar and Professor of History at the University of Illinois.

Armand Derfner has been a civil rights lawyer for over fifty years. He has been counsel for, among others, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and helped desegregate university systems and legislatures across the South. He argued his first Supreme Court case in 1968.