Review: Woodward’s The Brethren

This review was originally published on a now long defunct livejournal account. I am moving it over here as part of a project to get all my writing into one spot.

The Brethren: Inside the Supreme Court
Bob Woodward

OK, I haven’t read All the Presidents Men, (which is a shame and really should be rectified) but of all the Woodward books I’ve read, this is by far the best. As a intellectual investigation into the workings of the Supreme Court, it isn’t much. But as a juicy tell-all of the behind the scenes sausage making in the land’s highest court, it cannot be beat.  Woodward can get just about anyone to talk to him, and that is never clearer than in this book. He’s got direct quotes from meetings where there were probably less than a dozen people present. Its amazing.

Here are some brief thoughts on some of the justices features in this book:

Brennan- rules.

Burger – was a tool

Marshall – was a much better lawyer than he was a justice.

Rehnquist – dick.

Douglas –dick, but pretty fucking amazing.

Probably the most fascinating of the justices is Blackmun who goes from an incredibly self-conscious to confident and interesting in the quick couple of years the book covers. If you have any interest in the personalities on the Supreme Court, or the kind of horse trading that goes on there, you have to read this. If not, there’s no reason you’d ever pick it up.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Review: Iron’s A People’s History of the Supreme Court

A People’s History of the Supreme Court: The Men and Women Whose Cases and Decisions Have Shaped OurConstitution: Revised Edition
Peter Irons

A pretty well done progressive view of the Supreme Court. This one hits all the necessary rules (Dred Scott, Korematsu, Brown and so many more) while also covering some lesser known rulings like the Antelope (a fascinating early case on slavery which I thought about writing a book, and didn’t and which now there is another book – opportunities lost).

Since Howard Zinn coined the term “People’s History”, there’s been a whole cottage industry of books with that in the title.  You have to be careful, they can get pretty wishy-washy and, in some cases, inaccurate in their attempts at revisionist history. Irons here stays true to Zinn’s original model — the book attempts to put the stories of the people behind the cases front and center, spending more time on Scott the person than on the justices who decided his fate, but never at the expense of the historical truth.

A worthy counterpoint to more judge focused Supreme Court overviews, I’d recommend this to anyone interested in the history behind the courts most important social justice issues.