The U.S. Supreme Court building. The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., Oct. 1, 2021. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)

Thank you for reading The Marble Palace Blog, which I hope will inform and surprise you about the Supreme Court of the United States. My name is Tony Mauro. I’ve covered the Supreme Court since 1979 and for American Lawyer Media since 2000. I semiretired in 2019, but I am still fascinated by the high court. I’ll welcome any tips or suggestions for topics to write about. You can reach me at [email protected].


Famed author John Grisham has a new book out this week, titled “The Judge’s List.” It’s certain to be a bestseller, because Grisham’s legal thrillers are always bestsellers.

You may wonder what Grisham and his book have to do with the U.S. Supreme Court (aka the Marble Palace.) After all, as the title suggests, it is about a judge, not a justice. But there are connections:

—> In 1992, in his early days as an author, Grisham wrote “The Pelican Brief,” which began with the assassination of two Supreme Court justices. It was one of the earliest books in the Supreme Court thriller genre, and was soon turned into a movie featuring Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington. Footnote below: My favorite Supreme Court thrillers.

-—> Grisham was a practicing lawyer and state representative in Mississippi and has continued to keep up with legal matters even as he writes. He’s a longtime supporter of the Innocence Project. In 2008, when he was promoting his book “The Appeal,” he was asked whether the plot line—a corporate executive bankrolling the election of a state Supreme Court judge to rig a case—was far-fetched. “It’s already happened,” Grisham answered. “It happened a few years ago in West Virginia.” That was a reference to the Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co. case, which had similar features.

—>This week, New York Times Supreme Court correspondent Adam Liptak asked Grisham what he thought about the current Supreme Court. Grisham’s answer: “It’s very distressing. I think the Supreme Court lost so much credibility in 2000 when five Republicans on the court saw a chance to elect a president, and that’s what they did. And at that point, it became a very political court, and that has not changed over the years, certainly not in the past four years. The way McConnell was able to hijack the Supreme Court was just hard-core raw politics. And it’s probably not going to change for many, many years. It’s now the Trump court.”

—> When Justice Elena Kagan’s decision in Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial Dist. Court was handed down in March, legal writing expert Ross Guberman effused that Kagan may now be able to “claim the title of the greatest living legal writer.” He added, “Ten years after writing about cars in bankruptcy, she turns to a specific-jurisdiction matter involving a Ford Explorer. How does she make civil procedure sound like John Grisham?” That’s high praise.

My Favorite Supreme Court Thrillers (Aside From ‘The Pelican Brief’)

  • “The Tenth Justice” (1997) by Brad Meltzer, with a blackmailed law clerk twist.
  • “The Last Justice” (2012), “The Advocate’s Daughter” (2016) and “The Outsider” (2017), all by Anthony Franze, involving clerks, justices and court advocates. Counsel at Arnold & Porter, Franze is the only Supreme Court practitioner to write in the genre.
  • “Supreme Ambitions” (2014) by David Lat, spotlighting aspiring law clerks.
  • “9 Scorpions” (1998) by Paul Levine, starring a law clerk with an unusual background.
  • “While Justice Sleeps” (2021) by Stacey Abrams, also with a law clerk in hot water.