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Summer reading for court watchers

Now that October Term 2016 is over and the history of the Supreme Court has turned another page, there’s time to relax and savor the riches of a good book related to the court. Below is a list, by no means comprehensive, of mostly recent books. Included among them are books by the justices themselves, or about their work product, or about their nominations to the court, or about their inner workings, among other things.

Books by sitting justices

— Ruth Bader Ginsburg, My Own Words (2016) (edited by Mary Hartnett & Wendy W. Williams): The first book from Ruth Bader Ginsburg since becoming a Supreme Court justice in 1993 – a witty, engaging, serious and playful collection of writings and speeches from the woman who has had a powerful and enduring influence on law, women’s rights and popular culture.

— Stephen Breyer, The Court and the World: American Law and the New Global Realities (2015): Justice Stephen Breyer examines the work of the Supreme Court of the United States in an increasingly interconnected world, a world in which all sorts of activity, both public and private – from the conduct of national security policy to the conduct of international trade – obliges the court to understand and consider circumstances beyond America’s borders.

— Sonia Sotomayor, My Beloved World (2014): The first Hispanic and third woman appointed to the Supreme Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor has become an instant American icon. Now, with a candor and intimacy never offered by a sitting justice, she recounts her life from a Bronx housing project to the federal bench, a journey that offers an inspiring testament to her own extraordinary determination and the power of believing in oneself.

— Clarence Thomas, My Grandfather’s Son: A Memoir (2008): Provocative, inspiring, and unflinchingly honest, this is the story of one of America’s most remarkable and controversial leaders, Justice Clarence Thomas, told in his own words. Thomas reveals himself to be a determined man whose faith, courage and perseverance inspired him to rise up against all odds and achieve his dreams.

Judicial biography

— Adam M. Carrington, Justice Stephen Field’s Cooperative Constitution of Liberty: Liberty in Full (Lexington Books 2017): This book examines liberty’s constitutional meaning through the jurisprudence of Justice Stephen Field, one of the late-19th century’s most influential Supreme Court justices. A Lincoln appointee who served on the court from 1863 to 1897, Field articulated a view of constitutional liberty that speaks to contemporary disputes. Today, some see liberty as protection against private oppression through government regulation. Others see liberty as protection from government interference through limits on governmental power. Field is often viewed as siding against government power to regulate, acting as a precursor to the infamous “Lochner” era of the court. This work explains how Field instead saw both these competing conceptions of liberty as legitimate and in fact believed that the two cooperated toward a common end.

— Christopher E. Smith, John Paul Stevens: Defender of Rights in Criminal Justice (Lexington Books 2017) This book examines the judicial opinions of Justice John Paul Stevens, the Supreme Court’s most prolific opinion author during his 35-year career on the nation’s highest court. Although Stevens, a Republican appointee of President Gerald Ford, had a professional reputation as a corporate antitrust law attorney, he immediately asserted himself as the court’s foremost advocate of prisoners’ rights and Miranda rights when he arrived at the court in 1975. In examining Stevens’ opinions on these topics as well as others, including capital punishment and right to counsel, the book connects his prior experiences with the development of his views on rights in criminal justice. In particular, the book examines Stevens’ experiences as a law clerk to Justice Wiley Rutledge in the Supreme Court’s 1947 term, a volunteer attorney handling criminal cases in Illinois, and a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit to explore how these experiences shaped his understanding of the importance of rights in criminal justice.

Court history

— Laura Kalman, The Long Reach of the Sixties: LBJ, Nixon, and the Making of the Contemporary Supreme Court (Oxford University Press 2017): In this book, Laura Kalman focuses on the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon attempted to dominate the Supreme Court and alter its course. Using newly released – and consistently entertaining – recordings of Johnson’s and Nixon’s telephone conversations, she roots their efforts to mold the court in their desire to protect their presidencies. The fierce ideological battles – between the executive, legislative and judicial branches – that ensued transformed the meaning of the Warren Court in American memory. Despite the fact that the court’s decisions generally reflected public opinion, the surrounding debate calcified the image of the Warren Court as activist and liberal. Justice Abe Fortas’ embarrassing fall and Nixon’s campaign against liberal justices helped make the term “activist Warren Court” totemic for liberals and conservatives alike.

Supreme Court nominations

— Richard Davis, Supreme Democracy: The End of Elitism in Supreme Court Nominations (Oxford University Press 2017): Richard Davis, an eminent scholar of American politics and the courts, traces the history of nominations from the early republic to the present. He examines the component parts of the nomination process one by one: the presidential nomination stage, the confirmation management process, the role of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the increasing involvement over time of interest groups, the news media and public opinion.

Workers’ rights and the Supreme Court

— Joseph Seiner, The Supreme Court’s New Workplace: Procedural Rulings and Substantive Worker Rights in the United States (Cambridge University Press 2017): Seiner argues that the Supreme Court has systematically eroded the rights of minority workers through subtle changes in procedural law. This accessible book identifies and describes how the court’s new procedural requirements create legal obstacles for civil-rights litigants, thereby undermining their substantive rights. Seiner provides a framework that practitioners can use to navigate these murky waters, allowing workers a better chance of prevailing with their claims. The book clearly illustrates how to use this framework effectively, applying the proposed model to one emerging sector – the on-demand industry. This book will serve as a roadmap for successful workplace litigation and a valuable resource for civil-rights research. It will also spark a debate among scholars, lawyers and others in the legal community over the use of procedure to alter substantive worker rights.

The court on privacy and the press

— Samantha Barbas, Newsworthy: The Supreme Court Battle over Privacy and Press Freedom (Stanford Law Books 2017): This book draws on personal interviews, unexplored legal records, and archival material, including the papers and correspondence of Richard Nixon, Leonard Garment, Joseph Hayes, Chief Justice Earl Warren, and Justices Hugo Black, William Douglas, and Abe Fortas. Samantha Barbas explores the legal, cultural and political wars waged around a seminal privacy and First Amendment case. This is a story of how American law and culture struggled to define and reconcile the right of privacy and the rights of the press at a critical point in history – when the news media were at the peak of their authority and when cultural and political exigencies pushed free-expression rights to the forefront of social debate. Barbas weaves together a fascinating account of the rise of big media in America and the public’s complex, ongoing love-hate affair with the press.

The court on sex, religion and the law

— Geoffrey Stone, Sex and the Constitution: Sex, Religion, and Law from America’s Origins to the Twenty-First Century (Liveright 2017): Beginning his volume in the ancient and medieval worlds, Geoffrey Stone demonstrates how the Founding Fathers, deeply influenced by their philosophical forebears, saw traditional Christianity as an impediment to the pursuit of happiness and to the quest for human progress. Acutely aware of the need to separate politics from the divisive forces of religion, the Founding Fathers crafted a constitution that expressed the fundamental values of the Enlightenment.

Public controversy and the court

— David M. O’Brien, Storm Center: The Supreme Court in American Politics (11th Edition, Norton 2017): In an engaging narrative, David O’Brien shows how the Supreme Court is a “storm center” of political controversy, where personality, politics, law and justice come together to help determine the course of public policy and shape American society. The 11th edition features new coverage of events that have dominated the headlines, such as the battle to fill Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat and the landmark decision for marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges, making this the most exciting edition of “Storm Center” yet.

Ideology and the court

— Laurence Baum, Ideology in the Supreme Court (Princeton University Press 2017): This is the first book to analyze the process by which the ideological stances of U.S. Supreme Court justices translate into the positions they take on the issues that the court addresses. Eminent Supreme Court scholar Lawrence Baum argues that the links between ideology and issues are not simply a matter of reasoning logically from general premises. Rather, they reflect the development of shared understandings among political elites, including Supreme Court justices. And broad values about matters such as equality are not the only source of these understandings. Another potentially important source is the justices’ attitudes about social or political groups, such as the business community and the Republican and Democratic parties.

Recommended Citation: Ron Collins, Summer reading for court watchers, SCOTUSblog (Jun. 30, 2017, 12:03 PM),