Scor­pi­ons: The Bat­tles and the Tri­umphs of FDR’s Great Supreme Court Justices

Noah Feld­man
  • Review
By – September 1, 2011
Scor­pi­ons reads like a his­tor­i­cal nov­el. Noah Feld­man has tru­ly mas­tered the art of sto­ry­telling and his his­to­ry of FDR’s Supreme Court jus­tices is a treat for all read­ers, not just lovers of his­to­ry, law, and pol­i­tics. Feld­man treats his sub­jects with respect but also paints them as human beings, foibles intact. There is a spe­cial place in my heart for Jus­tice Felix Frank­furter and I was moved by the way his death was detailed in this book.

Frankfurter’s great­est adver­sary on the court was fel­low Jus­tice Hugo Black. As if he were a fly on the wall, Feld­man writes of how, while sit­ting in his kitchen and read­ing the morn­ing paper on Feb­ru­ary 21,1965, Black dis­cov­ered that Felix was dead. At the memo­r­i­al ser­vice for Frank­furter, Pilgrim’s Progress was read, just as it had been read at the memo­r­i­al ser­vice for Louis Bran­deis. And then, a short line penned by Frank­furter was read: I came into this world a Jew, although I did not live my life entire­ly as a Jew, I think it only fit­ting I should leave as a Jew.” The memo­r­i­al ser­vice con­clud­ed with the read­ing of the mourner’s kad­dish by Louis Henkin, who has just recent­ly passed away him­self, an Ortho­dox Jew who had clerked for Jus­tice Frank­furter.

The sto­ries of the jus­tices are woven togeth­er seam­less­ly, but the truth is that the back sto­ry of this book is more valu­able than the cov­er sto­ry. Using FDR’s jus­tices as his tools, Noah Feld­man paints a fas­ci­nat­ing pic­ture of the man him­self, Pres­i­dent Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Mic­ah D. Halpern is a colum­nist and a social and polit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor. He is the author of What You Need To Know About: Ter­ror, and main­tains The Mic­ah Report at www​.mic​ah​halpern​.com.

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