Black, Douglas, Frankfurter, and Jackson in Chambers

University of Michegan Press, 2009

The Great Justices considers the careers of Justice Hugo Black, William O. Douglas, Felix Frankfurter, and Robert Jackson against the backdrop of the High Court during the time the four served together (1941-54) and beyond. The book offers a revealing glimpse of a judicial universe in which titanic egos often clash, coming as close as any book ever to getting inside the minds of Supreme Court jurists.

This is rare and little-examined territory: in the public consciousness the Supreme Court is usually seen as an establishment whose main actors, the justices, remain above emotion, vitriol, and gossip, the better to interpret our nation of laws. Yet the Court’s work is always an interchange of ideas and individuals, and the men and women who make up the Court, despite or because of their best intentions, are as human as the rest of us. Appreciating that human dimension helps us to discover some of the Court’s secrets, and a new way to understand the Court and its role.

Comparing four brilliant but very different jurists of the Roosevelt Court – Hugo Black, William O. Douglas, Felix Frankfurter, and Robert Jackson – the book paints a startling picture of the often deeply ambiguous relationship between ideas and reality, between the law and the justices who interpret and create it. By pulling aside the veil of decorous tradition, the book brings to light the personalities that shaped one of the greatest Courts of our time – one whose decisions continue to affect judicial thinking today.


“This book’s basic idea is that a public figure’s genuine personality is the one expressed in private. The author applies this idea to four famous justices in American constitutional history: Hugo L. Black, Felix Frankfurter, William O. Douglas, and Robert Jackson. Domnarski illustrates the ‘private personalities’ with evidence such as interviews, oral histories, and select secondary works.”
–Tony A. Freyer, The American Journal of Legal History

“ . . . in addition to his frank appraisals of Black, Douglas, Frankfurter, and Jackson, Domnarski has presented an informative and well-researched book about an important period in the nation’s history.”
Federal Lawyer

“A stimulating, fascinating look at a timely topic. A must-read for anyone who cares about the Supreme Court and its history.”
–Susan Estrich, University of Southern California Law School

“Pithy, provocative profiles of giants whose memorable personalities burst through the written page. Would that their kind come again.”
–Roger Newman, Columbia University