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For Supreme Court junkies, 2007 has produced a bumper crop of books that shed light on that mysterious institution and its always fascinating members. As others have noted, Jan Crawford Greenburg’s Supreme Conflict and Jeffrey Toobin’s The Nine have, from different perspectives, told us more inside information about the Court — in a readable and credible way — than any other journalist’s book since The Brethren in 1979. And though Justice Clarence Thomas’ narrative in My Grandfather’s Son ends when he joins the Court, it is a powerful read that bares not only his soul but his mind, his preferences, and his prejudices. No one who follows the Court can afford to skip Thomas’ book — or Greenburg’s and Toobin’s, for that matter. But that trio of books, each of which has made it to the bestseller list this year, does not exhaust the catalog of valuable books about the judiciary published in 2007. The year should not end without notice of a few of those lesser-known works: High court roundup: The Supreme Court: An Essential History, by Peter Charles Hoffer, Williamjames Hull Hoffer, and N.E.H. Hull, which charts the Court’s evolution under each chief justice, is a worthy successor to the late Bernard Schwartz’s 1993 work, A History of the Supreme Court, in the category of single-volume histories. For a lay audience of inquisitive people, David Hudson Jr.’s Handy Supreme Court Answer Book is remarkably comprehensive and fascinating. Where else could you find out the identity of the tallest justice on the high court? (Answer: Horace Gray at 6 feet 6 inches; he was also the first justice to hire law clerks, back in 1882.) Foreign matter: The raging debate over the use of foreign law in American jurisprudence has cooled a bit lately. But a small volume just issued by the American Society of International Law makes it clear the judiciary has swung between internationalism and insularity before. Edited by Christopher Borgen, “ A Decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind .�.�.” offers speeches given to the society by justices beginning with William Howard Taft in 1922, and their tone as well as their content is revealing. In 1945, Justice Robert Jackson prophetically told the group that if the United States was going to help build international legal institutions, it had to be ready to lose some disputes: “ It is futile to think, as extreme nationalists do, that we can have an international law that is always working on our side.” Opinionated: Most of us puzzle over the content of judicial opinions. Scholar William Popkin has looked into why opinions are written the way they are. In the surprisingly fascinating Evolution of the Judicial Opinion, the Indiana University law professor sketches the history of judicial opinion writing and the recent emergence of a more personal style, personified by Judge Richard Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. Posner’s footnote-free, often funny, and colloquial opinions have won him a wide following. Judicial fiction: Brad Meltzer first explored the allure and pitfalls of being a law clerk in his terrific debut thriller, The Tenth Justice, in 1998. Now Scott Douglas Gerber, an able early biographer of Justice Thomas, has tried again in The Law Clerk. A law professor at Ohio Northern University, Gerber should probably hang on to his day job for now, but he captures the clerkship experience and manages to work in teachable moments on First Amendment doctrine relating to pornography. Press time: The relationship between the judiciary and the media is an uneasy one, Mississippi Supreme Court Justice James Graves Jr. says in one essay in the informative Bench Press, but “in fact both the media and the courts need each other.” Drawn from a 2005 conference sponsored by Syracuse University and edited by Keith Bybee, the book offers criticism of the media and the judiciary alike, and illuminates the evolving way in which courts are covered. Internet coverage of the courts offers promise and danger, writes Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick in another essay. Bloggers, she says, can take easy swipes at judges and let sentences from opinions stand isolated and out of context, “like so many stolen hubcaps.”
Tony Mauro can be contacted at [email protected].

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