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OUT OF ORDER by Sandra Day O’Connor


Stories from the History of the Supreme Court


Pub Date: March 5th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-8129-9392-9
Publisher: Random House

Here comes the judge—and she has stories to tell.

O’Connor (The Majesty of the Law, 2003, etc.), the first woman to serve as a justice on the Supreme Court—though, she hastens to add, not the first woman to hold a post of importance in that highest judiciary in the land—has been retired for half a decade, but still she is asked what being a justice is like. And, of course, she’s heavily involved in civic education, educating Americans about what being American is about. The result is this lightly told but deeply thought-through history of the court, part of “a government that develops and evolves, that grows and changes, over time.” Her case studies are many, including Marbury v. Madison, which articulated some of that evolution and established the court’s authority as the final arbiter of the constitutionality of legislation, and some of Daniel Webster’s greatest hits—for, she reminds us, Webster argued some 200 cases before the court, “known for his ability to marshal precedents and historical evidence with skill.” Apart from the most significant cases, such as Brown v. Board of Education, O’Connor examines just a few minor cases and then mostly to illustrate points about the humanity of the court—Scalia is a funny guy, Rehnquist was a card, etc. She is candid, opinionated and even entertaining throughout, though we wait breathlessly for the fly-on-the-wall story of how the Supreme Court decided to give George W. Bush the presidency.

For the time being, a well-considered, lively survey of what the Supreme Court does, how it’s constituted and, bonus round, how to argue before it.