The US Supreme Court’s ‘Great Dissenter’ repudiated ‘separate but equal’

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s muscular dissents on the U.S. Supreme Court made her a liberal icon whose face graces mugs, magnets, and a million memes.

If the power of one’s dissents are the measure of a justice’s greatness, then John Marshall Harlan, who served on the court between 1877 and 1911, deserves a much bigger tribute. That’s the takeaway from a sympathetic and well-written new biography, “The Great Dissenter: The Story of John Marshall Harlan, America’s Judicial Hero,” by Peter S. Canellos, an editor at Politico and a former Boston Globe editor.

“In the history of the Supreme Court, there is no parallel to Harlan’s career,” Canellos writes. “There have been other passionate dissenters and other famous dissents. But no one stood so consistently against his brethren, only to be vindicated in later times.”

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