Out of Order: Stories from the History of the Supreme Court

Article excerpt

Book Details O'Connor, S. D. (2013). Out of order: Stories from the history of the Supreme Court. New York: Random House, 256 pages, hardcover, ISBN-9780812993929.

Synopsis and Evaluation

As the first woman to be appointed as a United States Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O'Connor is a hero to many, including myself. Naturally, I was instantly intrigued by her newest book touted as a history of the Supreme Court and its Justices. While it is a lovely read with lots of obscure trivia, the book fell short of truly spectacular. Unsurprisingly, the book is meticulously researched with a slew of cited resources, and yet it barely scratches the surface of the compelling history of the Court. For anyone with even a modest understanding of the Supreme Court, this book may prove to be a bit superficial.

In fairness, part of my disappointment might be attributed to my misaligned expectations. I was hoping to read more of Justice O'Connor's voice and her personal experiences while serving on the Court in the backdrop of its rich history. Therefore, I was disappointed by the elementary description of monumental Supreme Court cases in favor of rehashing, for far too many chapters, the great difficulties of circuit-riding - an early requirement for Justices to ride on horseback for six months and sit on various courts within a circuit. Instead, this book was a general survey of a few things you might not have known about the Supreme Court, and targeted towards a reader who is unfamiliar with the process of appointing Justices and the workings of the Court.

On a more positive note, the text itself is only about 150 pages; therefore, it can be read tolerably in a handful of hours. A notable highlight in the book was one of the last chapters entitled "Larger-than-life Justices." This chapter gave an account of four Justices that all shared loud personalities, but varying jurisprudential achievements: Justice Stephen J. Field, an early pistol toting western pioneer; Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who largely is revered as the greatest Justice of all time; Justice James McReynolds, a notorious racist and regarded as the worst Justice of all time; and Justice William O. Douglas, an avid conservationist with a scandalous personal life. Additionally, I enjoyed the chapter on Supreme Court traditions, including assigned seats for the Justices at lunch and the Justices' hand-shakes before every oral argument. …