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The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court
Actor: David Strathairn
Director: Thomas Lennon
Genres: Special Interests, Educational, Documentary
G     2007     4hr 0min

AWARDS AND HONORS — A 2008 Parents' Choice Gold Award Winner, Television — 2007 CINE Special Jury Award - Best of History — 2007 New York Festivals Gold World Medal: The Supreme Court: A Nation of Liberties — 2007 New York Fes...  more »


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Movie Details

Actor: David Strathairn
Director: Thomas Lennon
Genres: Special Interests, Educational, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Special Interests, Educational, Documentary
Studio: Ambrose Video Publishing, Inc.
Format: DVD
DVD Release Date: 01/23/2007
Release Year: 2007
Run Time: 4hr 0min
Number of Discs: 4
SwapaDVD Credits: 4
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 2
Edition: Box set
MPAA Rating: G (General Audience)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

High production quality from PBS
Shaun | 02/08/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This is the only large scale DVD documentary film series on the Court (currently). The analysts who provide commentary are some of the best in the nation: including professors, a journalist, a few lawyers, a previous Supreme Court Justice (Sandra Day O'Conner) and the current Chief Justice (John G. Roberts, Jr.), and law clerks who served previous Justices. As far as filmed documentaries on historical narratives, the production value of this PBS series is high: every picture and video archive was accessed and used adeptly. The one critique I have of this 4-part-4-hour series is that it is too short: there is virtually no coverage of the first part of the first amendment: religion & government. Instead, PBS offers a grand political drama which looks at economic shifts, cultural shifts, and political power plays with a focus on the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Nation Under Law
These episodes follow the development of the Supreme Court chronologically, so this episode is dedicated largely to Chief Justice John Marshall. Marbury v. Madison sets the precedent for judicial review and is a complicated case: this episode takes time to develop the background necessary to understand the essential features of the political and legal context. The summary of Marshall's ruling is decent. The next important case is McCulloch v. Maryland is Marshall's other important case that is covered here before moving on the Andrew Jackson's administration and Chief Justice Taney, arguably the worst Chief Justice in the history of the Court (e.g. Dred Scott v. Sanford).

A New Kind of Justice
This episode begins following Stephen Jay Field (nominated by Abraham Lincoln) who set a precedent for a free what one analyst called a "rootin tootin capitalism." The Court began to defer to states on many economic issues (in contrast to Marshall's decision in Fletcher v. Peck) and the doctrine of "liberty of contract" became central. These laissez-faire rulings by the court ran into the Great Depression, which lead to the tensions with Roosevelt's New Deal agenda. The episode ends with Oliver Holmes, Jr. as insightful and prophetic.

A Nation of Liberties
This episode follows Hugo Black who was once a KKK member but became, as a Justice, a defender of many features of the Civil Rights Movement (I liked this approach better than if PBS just followed Chief Justice Earl Warren). Brown v. Board of Education is the central case despite Alabama's defiant stance against the ruling. There is a visual and musical crescendo where the words of the ruling are read allowed along with the words "equal protection" that scroll across the tv screen in a transparent way with the famous picture of Nettie Hunt and her daughter Nickie sitting on the steps of the Supreme Court with a newspaper in hand that declares the ban on segregation. I fell in love with this PBS series at that moment. The cases of Gideon v. Wainwright and Miranda v. Arizona set the stage for the Nixon agenda and the Rehnquist Revolution.

The Rehnquist Revolution
This episode follows the development of the "culture war" surrounding the abortion (e.g. Roe v. Wade) debate along with the rise of Rehnquist through Nixon. Nixon wanted to be tough on crime and he thought that the Miranda case was a burden on local law enforcement; would Rehnquist eventually overrule it? No he didn't (Dickerson v. United States). Sandra Day O'Conner is interviewed in this episode and she reiterates here defense of upholding the precedent in the Roe case along with the striking of trimester periods in her opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The analysts on this episode argue that the "Rehnquist Revolution" begins in 1994 with the United States v. Lopez case where the commerce powers of the federal congress were restricted in favor of states rights in creating laws about gun regulations near schools. Current Chief Justice, John G. Roberts, Jr. is interviewed to comment on recent court history. He says provocatively, "I'd be surprised if Justice Rehnquist's view on a number of areas didn't change as he moved from an associate justice to being the Chief Justice..." The last court case discussed is Bush v. Gore and the analysts presented it with ironic implications considering Rehnquist's history of deference to the states. This 4 part series ends with Chief Justice Roberts giving us a vague, but hopeful appreciation for both the Court and the Rule of Law."
An inspiring set of legal history
Blue Mower | Boston, MA | 04/14/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The primary holdings of some justices are emphasized: Marshall, Jackson, Frankfurther, Black, O'Connor and Rehnquist, and some others. The history and social backgroundm, and the interplay among Congress, President and Supreme Court help viewers to develop a general view of the reasoning behind their holdings.
For law students, this is a great set in the sense that you don't need to try hard to memorize why Marshall preferred a strong national government or why Black is a strict originalist. After understanding their political view under the historical background, the answers are obvious."
Great for law students
Stefano Saltalamacc | Caguas, Puerto Rico | 10/26/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Great material for law students. A collection treasure for those who apprecieate the history of the judicial corp. A masterpiece."