Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Book Review: Supreme Court by William Rehnquist

Back in the late 80's, our recently departed Chief Justice wrote a book in layman's about the history and workings of the nations highest court. His wife and daughter helped him with it by making sure he did "over lawyer" it and the results are extraordinary.

Rehnquist's descriptions of the various locations and personalities are charming and colorful. The Chief put the issues of the day in proper perspective and provided great understanding in to the lives and times of not only those who sat on the bench, but argued in front of the Supreme Court as well.

With the John Roberts confirmation and the Harriet Meirs nomination, the Supreme Court is on the front page a lot lately. My reading of the book was with an eye towards any insight the late Chief Justice could give in regards to how the Court works and what we should expect. The chapter on the nomination and confirmation process was particularly useful in this case.

Rehnquist illustrated taht every President wants to impact the Court with thier nominees. Presidents Lincoln and Roosevelt in particular had such opportunities to appoint sufficient numbers of justices to influence the direction of the Court. The problem, as Rehnquist explains, is that while these new justices tended to vote as a block on the issues of the day, once the focus of the Court shifted to a new area of law the groups tended to disband. Each justice asserts their own individuality and the Court is structured in such a way as to encourage that sort of independence.

While I didn't find every case to be all that entertaining, I did find the legal discussions to be mostly interesting and engaging. I highly encourage anyone with an interest in the Court to read the book.