Monday, March 04, 2013

Real People in Black Robes

A book about the highest court of the land, written by the long-tenured first woman to serve, may sound a bit clinical, stodgy and reminiscent of a history textbook but is anything but.  Out of Order: Stories from the History of the Supreme Court is a delightful, fun, and very informatively entertaining read in both content and style.   Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has organized a collection of captivating stories about "real people, with real emotions, real foibles, and a very real - if sometimes conflicting - commitment to doing what is right."  She may have been the first woman on the court, but she delves into many other Supreme Court firsts as well as discussing the most iconic justices, the history of how the court began, how it moved between several locations until its current home in its own building, and even how circuit riding greatly tired out early justices as they served their jurisdictions.  Did you know the nation's highest court has a court above them?  A basketball court.  "Serious and stressful though the job can be, it has always been important to the Justices that the law clerks enjoy a social and collegial environment" like letting loose at weekly basketball games.  Mainly used for the clerks, there have been a couple justices who have played the game upstairs themselves.  One justice on the court was a former NFL rookie star leading the league in rushing, another played semi-professional baseball and beyond athleticism, many have an incredible sense of humor largely unknown by the public.  O'Connor believes this comic relief is "a valuable commodity in any occupation, and it certainly is appreciated in the hallowed halls of the Supreme Court of the United States."  Did you know that a former President served as Chief Justice - the only one to do so?  William Howard Taft was both the 27th President of the United Sates and the 10th Chief Justice of the United States.  So, that’s enough for the spoilers.  O'Connor's book will help you appreciate the history and the current role of the highest court as well the passion with which these men and women now serve, while at the same time making them human beings with quirks and personalities just like the reader.  O'Connor closes her work by including in entirety the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, which she also carries with her always.  It’s a great reminder of how we can agree to disagree in America, while all trying to do the right thing, and a reminder of why we do what we do and how blessed we are to be an American.