The Scholar: St. Mary's Law Review on Race and Social Justice


Father, Son, and Constitution by Alexander Wohl is a major contribution to legal scholarship. This dual biography focuses on two public figures, each of whom played a leading role in addressing the most challenging legal questions of their day. The subjects of the book are Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark and his son Ramsey Clark, the most liberal attorney general in American history. The Clarks’ stories are told against a backdrop of the continuing American struggle to find the proper balance between governmental power and individual liberty. The public careers of Tom and Ramsey Clark were largely sequential, but sometimes overlapping. Together, they spanned three-quarters of a century. Thus, in following this saga of father and son, Wohl marches through a large sweep of American history, and traverses a gamut of wars, both military and metaphorical. However, those controversies merely furnish the context. The author’s attention is devoted principally to constitutional issues related to the Bill of Rights, and the ways in which Tom and Ramsey Clark frequently took center stage in shaping and deciding those debates. There are two major challenges to writing about Tom and Ramsey Clark in the same volume. The first formidable obstacle is the sheer number of events and persons that must be discussed. The second is that, at times, the subjects are difficult to categorize. It is impossible to quickly and confidently sketch the character and motivations of either man. Wohl, however, expertly handles these obstacles, and, as such, Father, Son, and Constitution is well worth reading. It should be part of every good library because it illuminates issues that are both important and timeless.

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