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  • Writer's pictureEmily Duke Hargan

Supreme Reading List

What are you reading these days? With the prospect of a new justice being confirmed to the Supreme Court in the next few weeks, I thought it would be interesting to look back over the Court's illustrious 231-year history and create a 'Supreme' reading list. There is no shortage of books about the Supreme Court—biographies of justices, memoirs, reviews of landmark cases, novels and more. The list below is a selection of books that I thought offered a most comprehensive view of the Supreme Court and its history.

No member of America’s Founding Generation had a greater impact on the Constitution and the Supreme Court than John Marshall, and no one did more to preserve the delicate unity of the fledgling United States. From the nation’s founding in 1776 and for the next forty years, Marshall was at the center of every political battle. As Chief Justice of the United States – the longest-serving in history—he established the independence of the judiciary and the supremacy of the federal Constitution and courts.

In 1800, the United States teetered on the brink of a second revolution. The presidential election between Adams and Jefferson was a bitterly contested tie, and the government neared collapse. The Supreme Court had no clear purpose or power. When Adams sought to prolong his policies in defiance of the electorate by packing the courts, the fine words of the new Constitution could do nothing to stop him. The Great Decision tells the riveting story of Marshall and of the landmark court case, Marbury v. Madison, through which he empowered the Supreme Court and transformed the idea of the separation of powers into a working blueprint for our modern state.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes is probably most well-known as being the ‘Great Dissenter’ for his contradictory opinions. However, during his nearly three decades on the Supreme Court, he wrote a series of opinions that would prove prophetic in securing freedom of speech, protecting the rights of criminal defendants, and ending the Court’s reactionary resistance to social and economic reforms.

This is the first truly comprehensive book written of Earl Warren, the politician-turned-Chief Justice who refashioned the place of the court in American life through landmark Supreme Court cases whose names have entered the common parlance—Brown v. Board of EducationGriswold v. ConnecticutMiranda v. Arizona, to name just a few.

The 1954 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Brown v. Board of Education brought centuries of legal segregation in this country to an end. It was and remains, beyond question, one of the truly significant events in American history, "probably the most important American government act of any kind since the Emancipation Proclamation," in the view of constitutional scholar Louis H. Pollak. The Brown decision climaxed along, torturous battle for black equality in education, making hard law out of vague principles and opening the way for the broad civil rights upheavals of the 1960s and beyond.

Gideon’s Trumpet by Anthony Lewis

This book details the story behind and the case of Gideon v Wainwright, in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that criminal defendants have the right to an attorney even if they cannot afford one.

Known for his forceful intellect and remarkable wit, Scalia mastered the art of writing in a way that both educated and entertained. This comprehensive collection draws from the best of Scalia’s opinions, essays, speeches, and testimony to paint a complete and nuanced portrait of his jurisprudence. This compendium addresses the hot-button issues of the times, from abortion and the right to bear arms to marriage, free speech, religious liberty, and so much more. It also presents the justice’s wise insights on perennial debates over the structure of government created by our Constitution and the proper methods for interpreting our laws.

This is the story of one of America's most remarkable leaders, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, told in his own words. Thomas reveals the pieces of his life he holds dear, detailing the suffering and injustices he has overcome, including the acrimonious and polarizing Senate hearing involving a former aide, Anita Hill, and the depression and despair it created in his own life and the lives of those closest to him. This is a deeply moving memoir and a ‘by-your-bootstraps’ story.

This dual biography includes revealing stories of how these trailblazers fought for their own recognition in a male-dominated profession—battles that would ultimately benefit every American woman. She also makes clear how these two justices have shaped the legal framework of modern feminism, including employment discrimination, abortion, affirmative action, sexual harassment, and many other issues crucial to women’s lives.

Supreme Courtship, Christopher Buckley

Christopher Buckley is one of the funniest modern political novelists. In this novel, the President of the United States, Donald Vanderdamp, is having a hell of a time getting his nominees appointed to the Supreme Court. After one nominee is rejected for insufficiently appreciating To Kill A Mockingbird, the president chooses someone so beloved by voters that the Senate won’t have the guts to reject her—Judge Pepper Cartwright, the star of the nation’s most popular reality show, Courtroom Six

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