PBS Launches Documentary on U.S. Supreme Court

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The PBS documentary series The Supreme Court presents a detailed view of how the nation's top court has helped to shape American history.

In addition to its early work that helped define the American political system, many of the Supreme Court's decisions are analyzed in the series — for instance, the "separate but equal" doctrine is reviewed, as is the Brown v. Board of Education decision that overturned it.

Law professor Jeffrey Rosen's new book, The Supreme Court: The Personalities and Rivalries that Defined America, is a companion piece to the television series.

Both the book and the TV series compare the legacies of Justices John Marshall Harlan and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Rosen notes that Holmes' reputation as a "progressive" justice is contradicted by the historical record.

Rosen also observes that it is the more collegial, outgoing justices who have succeeded in shaping the court, while justices who are more driven by ideology have found themselves more isolated.

The new series includes interviews with Chief Justice John Roberts and retired Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, among others. The four-part series begins tonight.

Robert Siegel talks with Rosen, who teaches law at the George Washington University and writes about it in the New Republic.

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