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Becoming Justice Blackmun: Harry Blackmun's Supreme Court Journey Hardcover – April 14, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Supreme Court justice Harry Blackmun's lifelong connection with Chief Justice Warren Burger—beginning in kindergarten in St. Paul, Minn., and culminating in 16 years together on the Supreme Court—supplies Greenhouse with one of her main organizing themes in this illuminating study of Blackmun's life and intellectual history. Once the closest of friends, Blackmun (1908–1999) and Burger diverged personally and ideologically, beginning in 1973, when Burger assigned Blackmun to write the Court's opinion in Roe v. Wade. Greenhouse, the New York Times's veteran Supreme Court watcher, draws primarily on Blackmun's massive personal archive to show how his authorship of the majority opinion in Roe (7–2) propelled him down several unexpected paths. Blackmun embraced equal protection for women and came to reject capital punishment. A Nixon appointee, Blackmun became the Supreme Court's most liberal justice after the retirement of William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall. The personality that emerges in Greenhouse's portrayal is that of a self-effacing and scholarly judge, devoid of partisanship, willing to follow his ideas wherever they led him. Making no pretense at being definitive or comprehensive, Greenhouse sets a high standard in offering an intimate look both at the man and at the development of his judicial thought. B&w photos. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Greenhouse, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter with the New York Times, was the first print reporter to have access to the personal and official papers of Justice Blackmun, who died in 1999, five years after retiring from the Supreme Court. Those papers are Greenhouse's primary source as she looks back on the 24 years of Blackmun's service on the court. He wrote the majority opinion in the Roe v. Wade decision that established a constitutional right to abortion, but his papers reflect his personal struggle with the decision, as well as others on issues of the death penalty and sex discrimination. The immense collection includes correspondence with other jurists, including Chief Justice Warren E. Burger. Greenhouse draws on personal papers to show Blackmun's personal journey, from entries in a childhood diary to the musings of a young lawyer hungering for partnership. This is an absorbing look at the personal and official concerns of a man who helped to shape American law and society. Vernon Ford
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; First Edition edition (May 2, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080507791X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805077919
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,409,958 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Gerald Swimmer on May 14, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is a remarkable books in so many ways. As other reviews have indicated this is not intended to be a complete biography but rather information gleaned from a review of the archives of Justice Blackmun

LInda Greenhouse focused mainly on three topic. The first is the ending of a friendship between Justice Blackmun and Chief Justice Burger. The two men grew up together. Burger was the leader bringing Justice Blackmun with him. When Justice Blackmun arrived at the Supreme Court he slowly became his own man and the friendship falls apart. In her reliance on the Blackmun papers only we can only see one side of the fissure but even that shows when old friends go their own way it often is done by small slights that in each detail is irrelevant but together are significant.

The second theme is the change in Blackmun"s attitude toward the death penalty. In small steps the responsibilities of the Court required Blackmun to more fully understand the implications of the penalty until finally he no longer could support it. Again the change is beautifully detailed and we feel from his writing as portrayed by Ms Greenhouse the depth of the change. In this portion of the book we learn how difficult it is to predict how sitting on the Court will change people. As we see the selection process for a new justices begin we should remember that people do grow with responsibilities and not to be to quick to characterize a nominee.

The last focus and the most detailed portion of the book is the identification of Justice Blackmun with the Roe decision which he wrote. Starting from the beginning of the research at Mayo Clinic the focus of the decision was the protection of doctors. As Blackmun developed his view he became more concerned about the rights of woman.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Ronald H. Clark VINE VOICE on May 4, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Linda Greenhouse, long-time Supreme Court correspondent for the New York Times, was permitted early access to the papers of Justice Harry Blackmun which became publicly available in 2004, five years after his death. Utilizing this treasure trove of Supreme Court files, enhanced by her more than twenty-six years covering and studying the Court, she has crafted a book of unusual insight and value for students of the Court. Through the use of Blackmun files, and the reproduction in the book of key documents, it is possible to gain an understanding of how the Justices interact with each other, how they reach consensus on opinions, the techniques through which they express disagreement and displeasure with one another, and the various persuasive strategies that they may follow. This is particulary the case with the abortion controversy that Blackmun, the author of Roe v. Wade, faced for much of his Court tenure. While not a conventional biography of Justice Blackmun, we do learn quite a lot about his career and standards from his pre-Court papers. But it is Blackmun on the Court (1970-94) that is the meat of this volume. One of the most valuable aspects of the volume is the insight it affords into Chief Justice Warren Burger, Blackmun's friend from childhood who is instrumental in securing his nomination. Burger has not been the subject of a full-length biography, and Greenhouse's discussion of his interaction with Blackmun (including the deterioration of their relationship) and his leadership of the Court is quite helpful in filling this gap.Read more ›
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on June 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This well written book is an admiring study of Harry Blackmun's tenure on the Supreme Court. The author, Linda Greenhouse, is the New York Times reporter assigned to Supreme Court coverage, and is known well for her excellent articles on the Court. This book has the strengths and weaknesses of high quality journalism. Greenhouse developed this book from the extensive personal materials deposited by the Blackmun family in the National Archives after Justice Blackmun's death. Greenhouse's goal is to give a portrait of Blackmun as a working Justice, how his attitudes towards important issues evolved over the course of his tenure on the Supreme Court, to explore the background of some particularly important decisions, especially the Roe v. Wade decision, and to provide some information about the nature of work in the Supreme Court as a whole. This is not a systematic biography or legal history, nor does this book include close analysis of any of the major issues coming before the court during Justice Blackmun's tenure. On its own terms, this is an excellent book. Greenhouse begins with a nice precis of Blackmun's life prior to his appointment to the Court, then covers his initial adjustment to the role of Supreme Court justice. While some of Blackmun's important positions, his opposition to capital punishment for example, have roots early in his career, the evolution of Blackmun's views under the pressure of having to make important decisions about relatively unfamiliar topics emerges very well. Greenhouse presents Blackmun as an intelligent, diligent, and decent man often struggling with issues outside his prior personal and professional experience.Read more ›
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