Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
special to the national law journal James D. Miller is a partner in the Washington office of King & Spalding. Two years ago, the Chicago Public Library proposed that all Chicagoans should read the same book at the same time-sort of a citywide book club. (The library, leading with its chin, picked Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.) If we decided to have a nationwide American book club, so to speak, we could not pick a better book than Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s The Majesty of the Law: Reflections of a Supreme Court Justice. While the lectures and essays that comprise this book cover a jumble of subjects, it’s a friendly, gentle jumble. O’Connor looks at the Constitution, the court and the law from a variety of perspectives, not from any single judicial philosophy; the style of her book, in other words, is similar to her approach in deciding cases. (She mentions in passing some hot-button questions the court has decided, but usually without stating her own position.) Much of the book concerns women in the law. A consistent theme here is that, between family and work, “American women are forced to make substantial trade-offs that American men largely bypass.” In her own life, she “chose to have and enjoy my family early on and to resume my career path somewhat later.” She recognizes the “tremendous tension” between recognizing gender differences, for example, in the context of pregnancy and what she calls harmful stereotyping, but she rejects the notion that there is any unique feminine perspective on the law (or almost anything else) because she sees this as a chilling reminder of a time when women (including the young O’Connor) were seen as unfit to be lawyers. Her chapter on the women’s suffrage movement is plainly informed by her time as an Arizona legislator (O’Connor is the only sitting justice who has held elective office), and there is a note of quiet Western pride in her description of the suffrage movement in Arizona. Legal history, painlessly Nothing in this book rises (or maybe falls is the better word) to the level of academic, law review analysis, but some essays do cover substantive legal topics. There is a charming account of the copyright battle between Wheaton and Peters, two of the early reporters of the Supreme Court’s opinions. O’Connor writes that Justice Joseph Story took Wheaton and Peters aside the night before the court decided the copyright issue, told them Peters was going to win, and suggested a settlement-which Wheaton rejected. O’Connor’s feel for the concrete and immediate shows when, in describing the ratification of the Constitution, she asks the readers to imagine how they would have viewed the document, produced behind closed doors in Philadelphia, had they “lived in those days.” The most interesting of the legal essays is on Chief Justice William Howard Taft and dissenting opinions on the court. O’Connor gives Taft almost as much credit as John Marshall for the court’s importance in American life, which is not a widely held view today. Taft was the 27th U.S. president, a professor at Yale Law School and a chief justice. O’Connor credits him with lobbying Congress to give the court control of its docket through discretionary certiorari review and to build the court’s present building. Her main point about Taft, however, is his success in keeping as many decisions as possible unanimous. She admits that Taft “did not have the jurisprudential talent of Marshall,” but argues that Taft was successful in suppressing dissent by keeping likely dissenters (Learned Hand, for example) off the court, and by “carefully crafting” opinions to satisfy all the justices. Most important, though, was the willingness of justices on Taft’s court to join opinions with which they did not agree. (This has changed, of course: O’Connor says, “neither my colleagues nor I make a practice of joining opinions with which we do not agree.”) Taft strived for unanimous opinions, O’Connor says, because he wanted the court to be a “grand presence in the public mind.” His success, and that of Marshall, gives “us the luxury of expressing our individual views today.” The early chapters explain what the court does and how. This is a stroke of much-needed pedagogy; O’Connor is concerned that many Americans know little about the Constitution (she cites a poll showing almost half of those surveyed did not know there are three branches of government) and misunderstand the Supreme Court’s role. She describes the court, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights with a light historical touch. She also includes sketches of several late justices with whom she served, notably Justice Thurgood Marshall. That O’Connor liked and deeply respected Marshall comes through in every word: During conferences, she says, “I still catch myself looking expectantly for his raised brow and twinkling eye.” The book is very much of a piece with its author: a pragmatic, broad-gauged jurist who happens to have been the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court.

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.