An Amuse-Bouche: A Short, Pithy Introduction to U.S. Supreme Court

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An amuse-bouche: a short, pithy introduction to U.S. Supreme Court The U.S. Supreme Court: A Very Short Introduction, by Linda Greenhouse. Oxford University Press, 2012. 144 pages. $11.95

New York Times Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse offers up an amuse-bouche of a book in The U.S. Supreme Court: A Very Short Introduction. As the title implies, this book is short, but pithy. Greenhouse shows her skill as a writer in delivering a brief book on a complex topic. Her book brings to mind Blaise Pascal's quote, "If I had had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter." Greenhouse has clearly taken the time and the care to write us a shorter book.

Polling by Pew has indicated how little the general public knows about the U.S. Supreme Court. When asked to name the current Chief Justice of the United States, four percent of respondents said Harry Reid, the Majority Leader in the Senate. Given poll results like that, we clearly need better civic education for the average American high school student. Sadly, with highstakes testing focused on other topics and budget shortfalls, we are unlikely to get such training in the basics of democracy any time soon. This means Americans must do the work of edifying themselves where their formal education may have failed them.

Greenhouse's short volume is a manageable starting point for those who want to familiarize themselves with the basics about the Supreme Court, without being overwhelmed. It covers how the Court sets its docket, the Court's place within the American separation of powers, and introduces some of the colorful personalities that have served on the bench over the years.

This book also serves as a quiet rebuke to those who vilify the Supreme Court as either out of control or out of touch in light of one or two controversial decisions. …