by Walter W. Manley, II, and Canter Brown, Jr. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2006. 448pp. Cloth. $59.95. ISBN: 081303003X.

Reviewed by Christine L. Nemacheck, Department of Government, The College of William and Mary. E-mail: clnema [at]


In THE SUPREME COURT OF FLORIDA, 1917-1972, Walter Manley and Canter Brown provide a thorough account of the state’s high court and its growth in size, caseload, and prominence, as Florida evolved from a largely rural state dominated by native Floridians and citizens from other bordering southern states, to one that became predominantly urban and the destination of many “snowbirds” from the north who flocked there as tourists and later as permanent residents. Commissioned by the Florida Supreme Court Historical Society to provide a comprehensive account of the high court’s development, this is the authors’ second volume on the court’s history (the first focused on the 1821-1917 time period).

Manley and Brown put forward two goals: first, to document the history of the state’s judiciary and especially its high court; and second, to contribute to the renewed interest in state appellate courts generally, as legal scholars have begun to redirect attention to the important role of state courts in our federal judicial system. Regarding their first goal, the authors provide a comprehensive account of the state supreme court’s history, and their organization of the book helps to meet their objective. Each of the five parts, divided chronologically, first provides a snapshot of the state during a particular time period. For example, in Part One, focusing on the period from 1917-1932, the first chapter describes the effects of World War I and the economic growth and development that occurred immediately in its aftermath. Manley and Brown then address the bank failures and financial crises that hit Florida more slowly than many other states, but whose impact was exacerbated by devastating storms and hurricanes in 1926 and 1928.

Having provided a general historical overview, the authors turn their focus to the state’s supreme court during that time period. Much of this discussion focuses on the structural rules and changes, including the court’s size, caseload and methods of judicial selection. Particularly in the account of the earlier years, the authors’ description of the court’s operation provides for interesting and even surprising reading. For example, until 1925, the chief justice of the court was chosen through a lottery system that sometimes included cutting to a particular page in the Bible wherein the justice with the highest last digit on a particular page was named chief (p.26)! In addition to discussing the court’s institutional position and evolution, the authors also provide biographical overviews for the justices serving during that period. This too, offers interesting reading and helps to locate the court’s activities in its proper context. [*613]

Finally, in the third chapter of each section, Manley and Brown analyze some of the prominent cases decided during the time period. In many instances, the authors describe individual cases deemed to be of particular importance to the state, such as GAULDEN v. KIRK (1950) in which the court unanimously upheld the state’s new sales tax. Additionally, they also provide discussions of several broad issues that were important to the court in the era. Several of these issues, such as labor law, local governmental powers, and race relations receive treatment within each chronological period, though that is not uniformly the case across all issues addressed.

The basic organizational structure described above continues throughout each of the five chronological sections, and through that structure the authors very ably meet their first goal of presenting a thorough overview of Florida’s supreme court and its development. However, that structure does not provide a suitable vehicle to achieve their second goal, at least not to the same degree as the first. Although some themes emerge throughout the detailed historical accounts, had Manley and Brown initially and explicitly laid out a theoretical focus, the reader would be in a much better position to appreciate how this particular story of the Florida Supreme Court contributes to an understanding of the importance of state high courts within our system of judicial federalism.

There are several themes the authors could have developed to emphasize the broader insights that can be gleaned from their discussion. One important theme that might have been highlighted is the dynamic nature of judicial federalism. Although the authors touch on the difficulty of maintaining the appropriate balance between the state and federal courts, if they had dealt with the issue more explicitly at the beginning, they could have then created a sustainable thread to guide the reader through the succeeding chapters on the court’s development and to provide some leverage in understanding parallel judicial experience in other states as well.

Another theoretical thread that could have been woven into the discussion, particularly of the individual justices, is the effect of urbanization and migration on our state high courts. Florida’s court would provide an especially good illustration of trends we might see elsewhere, though perhaps not to the same extent, given the degree to which Florida experienced both urbanization and substantial migration of non-native Floridians into the state, and eventually before its Supreme Court.

These are just two examples of themes that might have further contributed to to consideration of the role state high courts play in our federal judicial system. Certainly other themes could be emphasized as well, but the key is to provoke thought beyond this individual court.

One additional feature that would have enhanced the authors’ quest to meet both of their stated goals would be a series of tables laying out the basic court structure at the various points in the time period [*614] under consideration, including such factors as the number of justices, degree of discretionary appellate jurisdiction available to the court, and the selection methods utilized for individual justices and the chief justice. Although changes in these and other institutional rules are discussed throughout the book, presenting the information in a few accessible tables or an appendix would be greatly beneficial to readers unfamiliar with the court and would certainly be a good, quick reference resource even for those very familiar with its structure.

In sum, Manley and Brown provide a very comprehensive account of the Florida Supreme Court’s history and its development during much of the 20th Century. This book will make an excellent resource for those interested in Florida’s judicial history. However, the book is less successful in utilizing the history of Florida’s high court to provide insight into questions regarding state high courts more generally within our system of judicial federalism.

Manley, II, Walter W., Canter Brown, Jr., and Eric W. Rise (eds). 1998. THE SUPREME COURT OF FLORIDA AND ITS PREDECESSOR COURTS, 1821-1917. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida.

GAULDEN v. KIRK, 47 So.2d 567 (1950).

© Copyright 2007 by the author, Christine L. Nemacheck.