First Monday in October
“Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! All persons having business before the Honorable, the Supreme Court of the United States, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the Court is now sitting. God save the United States and this Honorable Court!”
The Supreme Court of the United States begins its new term on the first Monday in October. A number of complex, vexing questions come before the court each year, but the the question on everyone’s mind this year is – how well do they write?
Some of the justices have written books and all but Justice Kagan have extensive experience writing judicial opinions. Ms. Kagan wrote her senior thesis under historian Sean Wilentz titled “To the Final Conflict: Socialism in New York City, 1900–1933, but derives her literary cred by re-reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice every year. (She DOES know the book is not about judicial philosophy, right?)
Chief Justice Roberts is considered by many to be the best writer on the court and Justice Scalia its most acerbic. Conor Clarke of Slate comments on Scalia’s written opinions, especially his dissents:
“His writing style is best described as equal parts anger, confidence, and pageantry. Scalia has a taste for garish analogies and offbeat allusions—often very funny ones—and he speaks in no uncertain terms. He is highly accessible and tries not to get bogged down in abstruse legal jargon. But most of all, Scalia’s opinions read like they’re about to catch fire for pure outrage. He does not, in short, write like a happy man.”
Stephen Breyer has written several books—Active Liberty, and Making Our Democracy Work being the most recent examples—but, his writing comes across with all the force of a Powerpoint presentation.
Justice Ginsburg, learned Swedish to co-author a book on judicial procedure that was published in Sweden. Jag kan inte vänta med att läsa den.
“…Thomas’s confirmation ordeal remains a political rallying cry for a certain strain of ideological conservatives. The general public has nearly forgotten the details…but Thomas himself has forgotten nothing. Indeed, he cherishes the memories. They organize his universe. If he could have restrained himself from writing this unrestrained book, from revisiting with a vengeful relish all his private humiliations, more and more people might have given him the professional respect that Court watchers increasingly do. And his position in history would have been determined by his provocative judicial ideas rather than by his personal resentments. In a single gesture, however, Thomas has thrown all that away. The justice has written the most injudicious book imaginable. In his hunger for respect and dignity, he has exposed himself more dramatically than any confirmation hearing could have done. And in the process, he has done incalculable damage not only to his reputation, but also to the authority of the office that he occupies.”
Justice Sotomayor is working on a memoir to be published by the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group in English and Spanish. No title or publication date has been given. (Does anybody want to place a bet on “A Wise Latina” as the title? Just asking.)
During his senior year at Princeton, Justice Alito studied in Italy, where he wrote his thesis on the Italian legal system (non tra i più illustri d’Europa). Yawn.
Here is the current court in its own write:
John G. Roberts, Jr. – “We continue to believe that Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled. …. The court’s conclusions in Roe that there is a fundamental right to an abortion and that government has no compelling interest in protecting prenatal human life throughout pregnancy find no support in … the Constitution.”
“The Court must be living in another world. Day by day, case by case, it is busy designing a Constitution for a country I do not recognize”
Wabaunsee County v. Umbehr, 518 U.S. 668 (1996) (dissenting)
Anthony M. Kennedy – “The First Amendment is often inconvenient. But that is beside the point. Inconvenience does not absolve the government of its obligation to tolerate speech.”
International Society for Krishna Consciousness v. Lee,
505 U.S. 672 (concurring opinion)
Clarence Thomas – “This is a circus. It’s a national disgrace. And from my standpoint, as a black American, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg – “In sum, the Court’s conclusion that a constitutionally adequate recount is impractical is a prophecy the Court’s own judgment will not allow to be tested. Such an untested prophecy should not decide the Presidency of the United States. I dissent.”
Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98 (2000) (dissenting)
Stephen G. Breyer – “The public has to generally accept the existence of an institution that to do its job must sometimes make decisions that are very unpopular … In addition, since we are dealing with fallible human beings and not angels, sometimes those decisions will be wrong.”
Samuel A. Alito, Jr. – “I am particularly proud of my contributions in recent cases in which the government has argued in the Supreme Court that racial and ethnic quotas should not be allowed and that the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion.”
(Application to become deputy assistant AG, 1985)
Sonia Sotomayor – “Justice O’Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. …First, …there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”
Elena Kagan – “Subsequent hearings have presented to the public a vapid and hollow charade, in which repetition of platitudes has replaced discussion of viewpoints and personal anecdotes have supplanted legal analysis. Such hearings serve little educative function, except perhaps to reinforce lessons of cynicism that citizens often glean from government.” (Review of The Confirmation Mess (1995)).
If you judge the writings of these justices to be less than supreme, here are some titles waiting to court your attention:
- Packing the Court: The Rise of Judicial Power and the Coming Crisis of the Supreme Court by James MacGregor Burns
- Supreme Power: Franklin Roosevelt vs. the Supreme Court by Jeff Shesol
- Becoming Justice Blackmun: Harry Blackmun’s Supreme Court Journey by Linda Greenhouse.
- Supreme Conflict: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court by Jan Crawford Greenburg
- The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin
…and don’t forget that old standby, The Brethren by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong.
It’s unanimous – books about the Supreme Court rule!