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FIVE CHIEFS by John Paul Stevens


A Supreme Court Memoir

by John Paul Stevens

Pub Date: Oct. 3rd, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-316-19980-3
Publisher: Little, Brown

An informative and intermittently engaging account of Justice Stevens' tenure on the Supreme Court.

Stevens, who joined the Court in 1975 and retired in 2010, at the age of 90, was the third-longest-serving justice in the Court's history and its oldest member at the time of his retirement. He served under five Chief Justices, beginning with Fred Vinson and ending with John Roberts Jr.; the book is divided into sections that detail his recollections of the Court under each Chief. For the most part neatly structured and concise, the book's clarity is occasionally compromised by gratuitous legalese. It's not always clear how or why he has chosen to share a certain memory or observation or describe the ruling in a particular case. At times he veers into meandering personal anecdote, waxing rhapsodic about the warm handshakes he shared with his fellow justices, their morning coffee breaks, lavish holiday parties and “Nino” Scalia's “wonderfully spontaneous sense of humor.” It is touchingly clear that Stevens loved his time as a member of the Court, but only the most dedicated Supreme Court aficionado is likely to care about the metal spittoons next to each justice's chair or the toggle switch they use to turn on their microphones. Stevens' memory is sharp, his tone is affable and his storytelling has charming folksy quality, but as a whole this memoir is reminiscent of an exceptionally long-winded speech given by the guest of honor at a retirement party.

Though well-documented and richly detailed, this book is unlikely to captivate readers who do not have a special interest in the Supreme Court.