The first female Supreme Court justice attempts to shed light on some of its transformations, offering "snapshots of the people and events that reflect the Court’s evolution and journey." Since its inception in 1790, the Court has had its share of colorful characters, landmark cases, and an early history that belies its contemporary status as a well-respected institution. O’Connor tells tales of memorable justices—including former president William Howard Taft and first Chief Justice John Jay—and admits to how overwhelming her first day on the job was. She relates how presentations to the court are often nervously made by lawyers, who were famously advised back in 1940 to "rejoice when the Court asks questions." There are no longer interminable oral arguments, because "the Court’s modern practice has homed in on the legal, rather than the emotional, aspects of the case." O’Connor profiles four justices she deems larger than life, and includes a chapter, "Some Laughs on the Bench," that, though amusing, are not exactly belly laughs. The book is rounded out with the text of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and an admirable series of notes. (Mar.)
“[A] succinct, snappy account of how today’s court—so powerful, so controversial and so frequently dissected by the media—evolved from such startlingly humble and uncertain beginnings.”—The New York Times
“A brief and accessible history of the nation’s highest court, narrated by a true historical figure and a jurisprudential giant.”—The Boston Globe
“A vibrantly personal book [that] displays O’Connor’s uncommon common sense, her dry wit and her reverence for the nation’s institutions.”—Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Full of riveting anecdotes . . . a compact history . . . albeit a more lighthearted, personality-filled one than you might find in a high school classroom.”—Associated Press
“Candid, opinionated and even entertaining throughout . . . a well-considered, lively survey of what the Supreme Court does, how it’s constituted and, bonus round, how to argue before it.”—Kirkus Reviews
“In this delightful collection of tales, Sandra Day O’Connor shows us the personal side of the Supreme Court while reminding us of the critical role the Court plays. It’s a lovely book—and a valuable treasure for all Americans.”—Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs
“A maker of history, Sandra Day O’Connor proves herself an engaging historian in this fine book, taking us inside perhaps the most important and least understood institution in American life: the Supreme Court. With her characteristic clear-eyed common sense and a natural talent for storytelling, Justice O’Connor has given us a valuable and entertaining gift.”—Jon Meacham, author of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
“We have always known that Sandra Day O’Connor was a wise and thoughtful Justice of the Supreme Court. But we haven’t always appreciated what a talented storyteller and historian she is as well. This, her most recent book, contains succinct and readable stories from the history of the Supreme Court, and it nicely demonstrates that remarkable talent.”—Gordon S. Wood, author of The Idea of America
“Justice O’Connor has written an insightful and charming insider’s take on the workings of the Supreme Court of the United States throughout history. A historical figure herself—the first woman to sit on the Court—O’Connor is the perfect guide through the twists and turns that have made the Court such a powerful force in shaping American society from the Founding to present times.”—Annette Gordon-Reed, author of The Hemingses of Monticello
“Justice O’Connor has written a brief history of the Supreme Court that is lively, informative, and often inspiring. Drawing on her own experience and wisdom, she is giving us a civics lesson, but it’s like nothing you remember from high school.”—Evan Thomas, author of Ike’s Bluff
Former Supreme Court justice O’Connor has written a lively history of the court, its origins, its relationship to the other branches of government, and its difficult road to prominence in the United States. The opening chapters talk about the U.S. Constitution and its provision for a judiciary, with few details as to its structure. O’Connor’s stories of the earliest days of the Supreme Court and the difficulties of circuit-riding, along with the court’s lack of a permanent home, show how tenuous the nation’s early years really were. Subsequent chapters talk about how the modern Supreme Court was shaped by past law and practice. O’Connor also gives an insider’s view of the court’s ceremonies, such as the investiture for new justices, and the way that cases are decided. Her stories about former colleagues add extra appeal and humor.
Verdict This book is written for the layperson. Readers looking for an introduction to the workings of the court that is interesting and easy to understand but not condescending will enjoy this book.Becky Kennedy, Atlanta-Fulton P.L.
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Here comes the judge--and she has stories to tell. O'Connor (The Majesty of the Law, 2003, etc.), the first woman to serve as a justice on the Supreme Court--though, she hastens to add, not the first woman to hold a post of importance in that highest judiciary in the land--has been retired for half a decade, but still she is asked what being a justice is like. And, of course, she's heavily involved in civic education, educating Americans about what being American is about. The result is this lightly told but deeply thought-through history of the court, part of "a government that develops and evolves, that grows and changes, over time." Her case studies are many, including Marbury v. Madison, which articulated some of that evolution and established the court's authority as the final arbiter of the constitutionality of legislation, and some of Daniel Webster's greatest hits--for, she reminds us, Webster argued some 200 cases before the court, "known for his ability to marshal precedents and historical evidence with skill." Apart from the most significant cases, such as Brown v. Board of Education, O'Connor examines just a few minor cases and then mostly to illustrate points about the humanity of the court--Scalia is a funny guy, Rehnquist was a card, etc. She is candid, opinionated and even entertaining throughout, though we wait breathlessly for the fly-on-the-wall story of how the Supreme Court decided to give George W. Bush the presidency. For the time being, a well-considered, lively survey of what the Supreme Court does, how it's constituted and, bonus round, how to argue before it.