When Courts and Congress Collide

The Struggle for Control of America's Judicial System
Charles Gardner Geyh
Can our nation's judiciary remain independent, in light of the battle over judicial appointments?


While Congress fights tooth and nail over countless judicial nominations, no federal judge has ever been impeached on the basis of their decision making. The explanation for this incongruity, Geyh suggests, is not the balance of powers, but a dynamic equilibrium: a constant give-and-take between Congressional efforts to control the judiciary, and historical norms of judicial independence.

Charles Geyh's book, with a new foreword by Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, is essential reading for any student of American government, Congress and the courts.

"As gripping for its historical insight as for its relevance in our world of contentious confirmation hearings and threats—real or perceived—against judicial independence."
Harvard Law Review

"Making a strong argument that our independent judiciary derives more from intrabranch and interbranch norms than from the text of the Constitution, the book raises some well-timed concerns about the withering of these norms. . . . The story that unfolds in its pages is interesting and provocative."
—Legislative Studies Section Newsletter, American Political Studies Association

Charles Gardner Geyh is John F. Kimberling Professor of Law at Indiana University at Bloomington. He has served as director of the American Judicature Society's Center for Judicial Independence and counsel to the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Praise / Awards

  • "There are many nice-sounding constitutions in the world. The Soviet Union had one during the Stalin dictatorship, but no one paid any attention. Elsewhere, particularly in South America, the political branches are free to change the constitution at will. The American system is unique in that the courts can and do clash with the executive and legislative branches on the meaning of the Constitution. Charles Geyh makes those conflicts come to life. He strips away the sometimes-flowery language of judicial opinions, to clarify the intended and inherent conflict between courts and Congress. His description of the collisions are fascinating to read."
    —Abner Mikva, Former member of Congress, former Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and Former White House Counsel

  • "When Courts and Congress Collide tells a fascinating story of critical importance, not just to lawyers, judges, and policymakers, but to anyone who is concerned about our system of government and the role that an independent and accountable judiciary plays in that system."
    —Alfred P. Carlton, Past President of the American Bar Association

  • "Professor Geyh has long been at the forefront of a national campaign to protect and promote the vital role that strong and impartial courts play in protecting our rights. In this groundbreaking work, he explains why it is critical, in America's system of checks and balances, that courts be insulated from legislative overreaching; he describes the ways in which the judiciary's autonomy is now under attack; and he demonstrates convincingly why these attacks are deeply troubling in ways that should matter to all of us."
    —William S. Sessions, former FBI Director and federal district judge, and partner, Holland & Knight LLP.

  • "Anchored in the new institutionalism, this study shows how the independence of the federal judiciary rests on much more than the formal guarantees provided in the Constitution. Rather it is the consequence of entrenched norms that have emerged and been institutionalized over time. Geyh's timely book also shows how precarious these norms are, and warns that the hyper-instrumentalism of the post legal realist era runs the risk of damaging not only respect for the rule of law, but the norm of judicial independence as well. This is a stunning book, erudite, historically aware, politically astute. It is quite simply the best study of judicial independence that I have ever read"
    —Malcolm M. Feeley, Claire Sanders Clements Dean's Professor, Boalt Hall School of Law University of California at Berkeley

  • "Professor Geyh has written a wise and timely book that is informed by the author's broad and deep experience working with the judicial and legislative branches, by the insights of law, history and political science, and by an appreciation of theory and common sense. When Courts and Congress Collide makes an important contribution to our understanding of the "dynamic equilibrium" between Congress and the federal judiciary, the influences that contributed to its development and the forces that currently place it in peril. In a work that is at the same time learned, humorous and accessible to both scholars and the attentive public, Professor Geyh convincingly argues that customary norms – of both Congress and the federal judiciary—have proved more important than constitutional text to judicial independence, and that recent controversies concerning judicial appointments are best understood as reflecting greater reliance on a process that has never been constrained by independence norms to right the balance by assuring a greater measure of judicial accountability. The book is an indispensable source for those who seek to understand the forces that contribute to current attempts to control the judiciary and the dangers that lurk both in such attempts and in the judiciary's responses to them. Resisting the extremes of academic theory and partisan politics, Professor Geyh demonstrates that skepticism need not lead to cynicism about our courts but that the best defense of our traditions is likely to require a vigilant and informed public."
    —Stephen B. Burbank, David Berger Professor for the Administration of Justice, University of Pennsylvania Law School

  • "Analyzing the influence of judicial decision-making and control through congressionally appointed judges, When Courts and Congress Collide produces a definitive study of the intricate political power struggle arising from the ideological processes of judicial powers and competing influences throughout the entirety of America [sic] political, cultural, and economic life. . . . [V]ery strongly recommended to students of American history and political science, as well of [sic] the study of the American judicial system in history, in the present, and the foreseeable future."
    Library Bookwatch

  • "Making a strong argument that our independent judiciary derives more from intrabranch and interbranch norms than from the text of the Constitution, the book raises some well-timed concerns about the withering of these norms. . . . When Courts and Congress Collide offers an interesting account of the relationship between two branches of government. The story that unfolds in its pages is interesting and provocative."
    Legislative Studies Section Newsletter, American Political Studies Association

  • "This book is rich in both historical narrative and theoretical analysis. One way to characterize its contribution is to say that even those political scientists who have studied the relationship between Congress and the federal courts will learn a good deal from Geyh. His book is a valuable resource for students and scholars who seek to understand that relationship."
    —Lawrence Baum, Congress & the Presidency

Look Inside

Copyright © 2006, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

News, Reviews, Interviews

Review Midwest Book Review | 6/1/2006

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 360pp.
  • 2 Tables.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2008
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-06922-4

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  • $28.95 U.S.

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