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Reading the Supremes

Posted about 1 month ago by Eric P

A couple of years ago we published a blog post here about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her recent passing has revived interest in her life and career, and in addition to the books discussed in that post you can learn more about her through documentaries like RBG and feature films like On the Basis of Sex.

Cover of RBG RBG
Cover of On the Basis of Sex On the Basis of Sex

But Justice Ginsburg’s recent passing has also ignited popular conversations about the Supreme Court itself and the ways in which justices are nominated, confirmed, and treated in the political ecosystem of Washington. As usual, the Library’s got books for that.

Bob Woodward, a journalistic institution and himself a recent grabber of headlines for his latest book about the Trump White House, wrote a widely read book, The Brethren, about the Supreme Court between 1969 and 1975; it’s available through the Search Ohio network. For all its influence, however, it’s not an extremely well-regarded book, either among Supreme Court titles or within Woodward’s ouvre. His characterizations of the justices as petty, scheming, and egotistical finaglers make the most elevated legal thinkers in the land come across as a mix of the Greek gods and the cast of a reality show.

Cover of The Brethren: inside the Supreme Court The Brethren: inside the Supreme Court
Search Ohio

There are, however, authors who’ve made the Supreme Court a specialty and are more successful at it.. One is Joan Biskupic, whose biographies of the justices Scalia, O’Connor, and Roberts create an intersecting portrait of the institution and its personalities:

Cover of American Original: The life and constitution of Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia American Original: The life and constitution of Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia
Cover of Sandra Day O’Connor: How the first woman on the Supreme Court became its most influential justice Sandra Day O’Connor: How the first woman on the Supreme Court became its most influential justice
Cover of The Chief: the life and turbulent times of Chief Justice John Roberts The Chief: the life and turbulent times of Chief Justice John Roberts

Another author is Jeffrey Toobin, whose The Nine is a classic and compelling depiction of the recent Court.

Cover of The Nine: inside the secret world of the Supreme Court The Nine: inside the secret world of the Supreme Court
Book on CD   |   eAudio
Cover of The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court
Book on CD   |   eAudio   |   eBook

Jeff Shesol’s Supreme Power chronicles FDR’s acrimonious relationship to the Supreme Court and the plans he hatched to try and make it friendlier to him.

Cover of Supreme Power: Franklin Roosevelt vs the Supreme Court Supreme Power: Franklin Roosevelt vs the Supreme Court
eAudio

Ohio author Wil Haygood tells the compelling story of Justice Marshall’s confirmation process, which almost makes recent hearings seem nearly civilized by comparison.

Cover of Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination that Changed America Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination that Changed America
eAudio

And then there’s a whole catalog of books about the lives and work of individual justices. A few standouts:

Cover of My Grandfather’s Son My Grandfather’s Son
Book on CD
Cover of Justice Brennan: liberal Champion Justice Brennan: liberal Champion
Cover of Becoming Justice Blackmun: Harry Blackmun’s Supreme Court Journey Becoming Justice Blackmun: Harry Blackmun’s Supreme Court Journey