Multcolib Research Picks: Supreme Court memoirs
Annotation:This one is very different in tone and scope from My Beloved World. Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed Hugo Black to the Supreme Court in 1937 where he served as an Associate Justice for the next 34 years. Black grew up poor in Alabama, but his memoir does not dwell extensively on his youth. Unfortunately, the memoir is incomplete since the author died before he could finish the work. What he completed is published here as well as the detailed diary of his second wife, Elizabeth. She first worked for Black as a law clerk before marrying him a year later. She maintained a relationship with her husband’s staff and Black regularly discussed the work of the Court with his wife, so her diary is another, fascinating look behind the scenes of the Supreme Court and adds a unique perspective on the life of a justice.
Annotation:Like Sotomayor's, this book only covers the author’s life up to his appointment to the Supreme Court. Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed Felix Frankfurter to the Supreme Court in 1939 and he served until retiring in 1962. Frankfurter tended to be more conservative than many of his fellow justices who were appointed by FDR and was often at odds with Hugo Black in particular, but we don’t get to experience that because of the scope of the book. Also, this is not a true memoir, but rather the result of interviews conducted for an oral history project. It is still Frankfurter’s voice, however, and still fascinating reading due to his long and varied public service.
Annotation:Douglas wrote two memoirs. The first, Go East, Young Man (MCL does not own) describes his life growing up in the Pacific Northwest which makes it similar to My Beloved World, and this one, The Court Years, which covers his life as a Supreme Court Justice. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed William O. Douglas to the Supreme Court in 1939 he was among the youngest people to ever serve there. Because of his youth and long career—he retired in 1975--Douglas was at the center of many of the momentous changes of the 20th century. He provides insight into McCarthyism, the rise of Civil Rights, and the expansion of the first amendment. No other memoir by a Supreme Court justice is as devoted to the operation of the Court itself, plus it is well-written and engaging to boot!
Annotation:Dwight Eisenhower appointed Earl Warren as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1953, a position he held until 1969. This book gives readers a glimpse into the working of the Court and his role as Chief Justice. Unlike many justices whose careers before joining the Court are firmly rooted in the law, Warren was an active, nationally known politician who had served as a prosecutor, governor, and was even the vice-presidential candidate alongside Thomas Dewey in 1948. To be honest, his writing is not the most engaging, but since he was, arguably, among the three most influential Chief Justices in the Court’s history and the only Chief Justice thus far to have written a memoir, the work is a must for those interested in the subject.
Annotation:Stevens served on the Court longer than all but two other justices in American history. This may explain why he approached the topic as he did—a memoir of the Court through the five Chief Justices with which he worked over a very long career as a lawyer, law clerk, and, beginning in 1975, Associate Justice. This makes it very different from My Beloved World but both have a shared sense of intimacy. Stevens refers to his fellow justices by their first names and describes a court that, while having disagreements, consistently behaves civilly. It is engagingly written and filled with fascinating insights even if few dirty secrets are revealed.
Annotation:This memoir is the most similar to My Beloved World, so if you really liked Sotomayor’s book, then you will very likely like this one, too. Ronald Reagan appointed Sandra Day O’Connor to the Supreme Court in 1981 where she served until retiring in 2006. Her memoir details her childhood growing up on a remote ranch in eastern Arizona but does not go into any great detail about her life as a justice. However, what it does describe are the values her childhood imparted including an emphasis on competence and self-reliance. Like Sotomayor’s memoir, it is more about the shaping of a life and outlook than the experience of serving on the Court. Sotomayor’s work may have a greater emotional payoff, but O’Connor also comes from a background that, at first glance, would seem an unlikely start for a Supreme Court justice.
Annotation:George H. W. Bush appointed Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court in 1991. Like Sotomayor and many others on this list, Thomas’s memoir recounts his early life up to his appointment to the Supreme Court. He, like Sotomayor and O’Connor, grew up in a world far removed from the world of power represented by the Supreme Court. He was born into poverty in Alabama. His father abandoned the family and his mother struggled financially, so he was raised by his grandparents, particularly his very stern grandfather. One of the most remarkable aspects of the book is how he initially embraced the Civil Rights movement but eventually rejected the liberal political movement of which it was a part. Because he has been one of the most politically divisive justices to serve in recent memory, it should be no surprise that political concerns are a strong element in the book, especially when he describes his very contentious confirmation hearings. Like the memoirs of Sotomayor and O’Connor, Thomas is most focused on examining why and how he has come to view life rather than serving on the Court itself.
Annotation:The first Hispanic and third woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor has become an American icon. Her memoir, My Beloved World, details her journey from a Bronx housing project to the federal bench.
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While we at Multnomah County Library are very excited that Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir, My Beloved World, is the 2014 Everybody Reads selection, she is not the only Supreme Court justice to have published a book. As long as there has been a Supreme Court, justices have been writing and publishing on a variety of topics. Most are, naturally, related to the law but there are also a handful of memoirs that can complement the experience of Justice Sotomayor. After you have finished My Beloved World, you might want to check out one of these.