The Supreme Court at Work

The Supreme Court at Work

by Joan Biskupic, Elder Witt, Elder Witt
A highly readable explanation of how the Supreme Court has set its rules and managed its operations since it began. The Supreme Court at Work also looks at the Court of today and how it has responded to the challenge of keeping pace with an increasingly complex world and changing workload.

A glossary, chronology of major decisions, bibliography, subject and case


A highly readable explanation of how the Supreme Court has set its rules and managed its operations since it began. The Supreme Court at Work also looks at the Court of today and how it has responded to the challenge of keeping pace with an increasingly complex world and changing workload.

A glossary, chronology of major decisions, bibliography, subject and case indexes, plus information on finding decisions and other Court information online make this an excellent starting point for almost any Supreme Court research.

Editorial Reviews

Timothy M. Hagle
THE SUPREME COURT AT WORK is a handy reference and would make an excellent addition to a judicial process course, particularly one emphasizing the Supreme Court. THE SUPREME COURT AT WORK is one of three books based on the more extensive (and expensive!) two-volume CONGRESSIONAL QUAR-TERLYÆS GUIDE TO THE U.S. SUPREME COURT, 3d ed., by the same authors. This book comprises eight chapters and two extensive appendices that are taken directly from the GUIDE. The first two chapters provide historical summaries of the CourtÆs first two centuries. Chapter 3 does the same for the CourtÆs third century, but is necessarily quite short and lacks the historical perspective of the previous two chapters. More extensive historical treatments are certainly available, but as a quick reference or supplementary course material these chapters cover a wide range of topics that are likely to be of interest. Chapter 1 begins with sections on the constitutional foundations of the judiciary and the need for judicial independence. Various sections then consider historical periods, general areas of the law, or specific cases (e.g., "Marshall and MARBURY," "SCOTT V. SANDFORD"). Of course, this material is well-footnoted with citations to Supreme Court cases and other source materials. Chapter 2 follows the same format as the first chapter and begins with sections on the CourtÆs business decisions and racial policy, takes us through the Depression era to FDRÆs court-packing plan, and then to the changes brought about by ReaganÆs appointments to the Court. For obvious reasons this chapter contains more photographs of the justices. The authors include many official individual and group photos of the justices. I suspect this feature will be appreciated by students who are less familiar with the various justices than those of us who study them for a living. Chapter 3 follows the same format as its predecessors. Because of its brevity, only three pages of text, this chapter does little more than summarize the personnel changes and major cases since 1989. The emergence of the conservatives as well as the OÆConnor-Kennedy-Souter middle block are mentioned, but this material is just too recent to be given the same historical treatment as the material in the previous two chapters. Chapters 4 through 6 constitute the "at work" portion of the book. Chapter 4 describes the "Operations and Traditions of the Court." The major sections of the chapter examine the schedule of the CourtÆs term, how it reviews cases, the oral arguments, what happens at conferences, the writing of opinions, and other traditions of the Court. Each major section is further divided into several subsections. For example, the "Reviewing Cases" section contains subsections on "Methods of Appeal," "Process of Review," "The Discuss List and the Orders List," as well as a separate box on "The æRule of Four.Æ" Another box in the chapter lists electronic sources for Court decisions, such as the Cornell Law School Server (, the the liibulletin [thatÆs itÆs name, for the uninitiated], and Oyez, Oyez, Oyez (, which offers recordings of oral arguments of many Court cases. Chapter 5, "The People of the Court," provides an overview of the various people who work at the Court. First is the Chief Justice. In addition to a general description of the office itself, the authors provide specific information on Chief Justices Marshall, Taft, Hughes, and Warren. A separate box contains information on Warren and BROWN. In the section on the justices, the authors provide information on such topics as individualism, retirement, impeachment attempts, and extrajudicial activities. The next section examines the roles of several supporting personnel. This information is particularly useful simply because it is less well known. The Clerk of the Court, the Marshal of the Court, the Reporter of Decisions, the Librarian, and several other positions are covered. The next section of the chapter describes the lawyers who appear before the Court. As one would expect, the Solicitor General is described in detail and a separate box lists all the Solicitors General since 1870. Chapter 6, "Courtrooms and Costs," is a relatively brief chapter that provides an overview of where the Court was housed prior to moving into its current residence in 1935. This chapter also contains information on what it costs to run the Court, including the salaries of the justices and their retirement system. Chapter 7, "Members of the Court," is another relatively short chapter that summarizes various characteristics of the justices. Subsections in the chapter explain the importance of such factors as party membership, states of origin, and certain types of "seats" on the Court (e.g., the "New England" seat). A box discusses "Catholic and Jewish Justices." The information here is sufficiently current to inform us that with ThomasÆs announced return to Catholicism in 1996, for the first time in Court history a majority of the justices are not Protestant (Thomas, Scalia, and Kennedy are Catholic; Breyer and Ginsberg , Jewish). "Brief Biographies" of all the justices are given in Chapter 8. Each biography contains a picture of the justice, date and place of birth, education, official positions, Supreme Court service (including nominating president, date of confirmation, date of swearing in, date of end of service, replacement, and nominating president of replacement), family, and, as appropriate, date and place of death. Following this information are several paragraphs that summarize the justiceÆs life and career. I have found that having this amount of detail available for all the justices is particularly useful. As in other chapters, the authors provide several separate boxes containing additional information such as the oath of office, margins of victory, and recess appointments. Following Chapter 8 are two appendices containing various reference materials. The appendices constitute slightly over one-third of the book, but are certainly worth having in one place, particularly if the book is to be used as a course supplement. As with other chapters, the appendices are taken directly from the larger GUIDE, with the exception that the cases contained in the GUIDEÆs Appendix A do not appear here. Appendix A contains documents and texts such as the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution, the Judiciary Act of 1789, and the Rules of the Court. Appendix B contains various tables and lists such as the natural courts, Supreme Court nominations, Acts of Congress held unconstitutional, major decisions, and a map of the federal court system. Again, this material is very useful. In fact, the earlier version of the "Major Decisions" section was used as source material in an important article by Segal and Spaeth (AJPS, 1996, 40:971-1003). I do, however, have one complaint about the federal court map. This map is improved over the one found in some other texts in that it shades the circuits to make them more easily distinguishable. Unfortunately, although the map also shows the lines for the district court boundaries, it fails to provide the geographic names for the various district courts. The map only takes up the top half of a page, leaving the bottom empty. My suggestion, should the publishers see this, is to present the map landscape-style, enlarge it, and add the geographic indicators. As I mentioned at the outset, THE SUPREME COURT AT WORK would be a very useful companion book in a course focusing on the judiciary. Outside the classroom, it can also be a valuable reference work. As such, would it be better to have the larger GUIDE, and is it worth purchasing the new edition? The GUIDE, of course, contains much more information on a wider range of topics, but if one has access to more extensive treatments of these other areas, then THE SUPREME COURT AT WORK may be sufficient to provide information on topics often given little space in other texts. In answering the second question, I assume that like the current edition it was drawn directly from the previous edition of the GUIDE. The most obvious advantage of having the new edition is the updated material. This includes biographies on the four most recent justices, updated listings for the Solicitor General and other personnel, the new Court Rules adopted in 1995, and additions to the lists of major decisions and acts declared unconstitutional (through the 1996 Term). In addition, the publishers have improved the readability of the book. The typeface used is less cramped (though the section headings do not stand out as well). Many new pictures are included in the current edition, but even those that are the same, such as those of the justices, are enlarged for easier viewing. New to this addition are the list of natural courts and the map of federal courts. In sum, THE SUPREME COURT AT WORK (or in the alternative the larger GUIDE) is certainly worth having on oneÆs shelf.

Product Details

Congressional Quarterly, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
8.56(w) x 10.97(h) x 0.84(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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