“I wanted to write about aspects of the Court’s rich heritage that interested and inspired me. Hence this book. Only when we reflect on the Court’s journey as a whole can we truly appreciate the remarkable feat of our Founding Fathers and the remarkable accomplishments of our thriving federal judiciary.”
From the Introduction
Written in a conversational style, retired Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Sandra Day O’ Connor, has provided us with a short and interesting history of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) highlighting the history of the Court, the early requirements of “circuit riding” which took the Justices away from their families and work for long periods of time, as well as snapshots of some of the men (especially prior to her ascension to the Court in 1981) who sat on the bench since its inception in 1791, and some interesting developments in the location of the court as well as its operational development over the course of its history.
As I read, two (among many others) fascinating and interesting facts about the court I did not know prior to reading this book emerged, illustrating the unique contribution of this book to an understanding of SCOTUS. First, from its inception in 1789 until the Evarts Act in 1891 which created the three-tier system of federal courts, all of the Justices who sat on the bench were required to circuit ride across the US to hear cases. The result, by the time of the Evarts Act, was a three year backlog of work not to mention the physically taxing demands of travel (especially in the early days of the Court) on the Justices. Only after a century of existence were the Justices able to focus on their work in Washington. Even now however, there remains Justice O’Connor notes, a desire to see the court get out of Washington and, quoting Yale Law Professor Akhil Amar “sit with fellow federal judges elsewhere in the country in order to make them more attentive to state law and different perspectives in this vast country of ours.”
The second was the transition from being required of Congress to have “a large mandatory docket” to the now practice of “certiorari” which allows the Court to select those cases it will choose to review. The Evarts Act (mentioned above) was the first step, according to O’Connor to help alleviate the overload, but it was not until 1925 and the Judiciary Act of 1925 that the Court was able to establish a more discretionary docket.
I liked this book because Justice O’Connor provides, in my opinion, a varied and interesting look at this vital American institution. This brief book is treasure trove of stories and insights of the US Supreme Court that a reader who is interested in the history of court itself will find fascinating. If you are looking for a more in-depth of the Court from a legal and constitutional perspective this is not the book for you. However, if you are interested in the development of the Court from its inception during the administration of George Washington, this is a wonderful book to read.
I rate this book a ‘great’ read!
Note: I received an uncorrected proof of this book via the Amazon Vine Program in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.