Sunday, September 23, 2007

First Monday in October - some assigned readings

Note, this is an updated and more extensive list than the one I originally posted on

As everybody who took my steet law class knows (or should remember) the "First Monday in October" is when each yearly session of the Supreme Court of the United States starts. As that date is almost upon us, the old history teacher has some assigned reading (optional, of course - but the content will be on the test!) regarding our nation's highest court:

"The Dissenter" New York Times Article written by Jeffrey Rosen on the court's oldest justice John Paul Stevens.

"The Brethren" First published in the 1970's, still an excellent look at the inner workings of the court, and a good history lesson behind current issues still in the news, such as abortion and executive priviledge. Written by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong.

"The Supreme Court: The Personalities and Rivalries That Defined America" As the title says, this is a history that shows how the personalities and relationships between justices has had an effect on law (and therefore our lives) since the founding days of the court. Written by Jeffrey Rosen, along with Thirteen/WNET.

"The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court" A look at the court and the men and women who have served on it over the past two decades. Written by Jeffrey Toobin.

"The Supremes' Greatest Hits: The 34 Supreme Court Cases That Most Directly Affect Your Life" A quick study of some of the major decisions of the court their practical relevance to you and me. Written by Michael G. Trachtman.

"A People's History of the Supreme Court: The Men and Women Whose Cases and Decisions Have Shaped Our Constitution (Revised Edition)" Written by Peter Irons. A populist look at how the court has dealt with the rights of minorities over its history.

"The Courage of Their Convictions: Sixteen Americans Who Fought Their Way to the Supreme Court" Also by Irons, a look at some individual court cases and the real life people behind the events that led to the SC's decisions.

"Supreme Conflict: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court" This book covers the Harriet Miers nomination and subsequent nomination and confirmation of Samuel Alito and the resulting changes for the Supreme Court. A very good book (as are all of the above) written by Jan Crawford Greenburg.

I could go on, but I'll stop here for now, though I'll probably have another list later in October. If you're not a reader (for heaven's sake, why not???!!) then you might at least want to rent a good little movie called "First Monday in October" and watch it. It gives a humorous look at court, but it came out in 1981 and basically predicted Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's elevation to the court (and it wasn't too far off on how her views subtly changed over time once she got on the court either). At any rate, a good movie, but try to read one of the books if you can. For those who are financially impaired like myself, try the local library, although I'm sure the authors would appreciate your buying a copy.

Best wishes, later,


TDub said...

Which of these books would you recommend be read first? I'm leading towards "The Brethren", but "Nine" and "Supreme Conflict" are all over the place, including Costco.

Steven R. Harbin aka coachhollywood67 said...

I would go with The Brethren, followed by The Nine, followed by Supreme Conflict, simply because chronologically that's the order the time periods they chronicle fall into, but I don't think you necessarily have to do that. The Brethren covers the late 60's and early 70's, while The Nine basically covers the 90's to the present, with Supreme Conflict zeroing in on the appointments of Roberts and Alito this decade.

That's just my preference however, I don't think it matters. You can probably find any of the three at a library. The Brethren may be out of print, but it should be easy to find cheap on a used book site. As you say, the other two are pretty much at every bookstore I've been to lately.

Some other authors who I think have good books on the Court are James F. Simon, and Mark Tushnet. For a more conservative bent than mine, I would suggest William H. Rehnquist's history of the Court, as well. While browsing amazon I find enough books to make several lists, but I think you could really get a good take on the court by reading the three you mention.