An informative, behind-the-scenes view of daily life at the tallest bench in the land.
One of the most ingenious points of American democracy, writes Justice O’Connor (Lazy B, 2001), is its according “dual sovereignty” to the national and state governments; it is also one of its thorniest aspects, a source of constant conflict. Hence, the Supreme Court, which, since the days of John Marshall, has reserved for itself the power to determine whether a given law falls within the bounds of the Constitution. Justice O’Connor looks at a few of the signal cases the Court has heard in the last half-century, such as Brown v. Board of Education; profiles predecessors and colleagues like Thurgood Marshall and Warren Burger; holds forth on practical problems, e.g., jury duty (“It is incumbent upon those who oversee their jury systems to make sure that jury service, for whatever length of time, is bearable”); and exalts the better angels of American democracy, however fragile, witness the principle “that certain fundamental rights, to which every citizen is entitled, mist be placed outside the reach of political exigency.” Throughout, Justice O’Connor writes with lively humor; considering the mounds of paper that cross her desk: for instance, “The Court is a more reliable backstop for the health of the paper industry than any protectionist legislation Congress might pass.” Humor aside, and despite her conservative leanings, she also writes with a sharp sense of appreciation for dissenting views, and she is keenly appreciative of the growing role of women in political decision-making, arguing that “society as a whole can benefit immeasurably from a climate in which all persons, regardless of gender, have the opportunity to earn respect, responsibility, advancement, and remuneration based on ability.”
An able primer on the role of the Supreme Court in American life, and on the merits—and shortcomings—of American democracy.