The Brethren: Inside the Supreme Court Mass Market Paperback – January 1, 1981
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Top reviews from the United States
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This book is focused on the Burger court, when a Nixon appointed judge was tried to stem the type of progressive judicial activism the Warren court was known for. This book is fascinating for any one interested in what was happening inside the court during those important years. This book is worth reading for the fascinating back story of how Roe v. Wade got decided, but on top of that it provides gives us fascinating portrayals of some of modern histories most important justices, including William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall, Harry Blackmun, and William Rhenquist.
This is a must read for anyone interested in the inner workings of the Supreme Court, or the controversies surrounding the death penalty and Roe v. Wade.
The focus of the story is Chief Justice Warren Earl Burger, who replaces Earl Warren after his retirement. The irony of the names is unexplored, but it is appropriate, because Burger becomes progressively preoccupied with trying to match Warren's legacy. Unlike Warren, though, he allows political concerns and vanity to influence his judgment and, bit by bit, erode the confidence of his colleagues, to the point where the late William Rehnquist, then a young conservative on the Court, makes fun of him behind his back. Although this book is unflattering to some of the justices, such as Thurgood Marshall, who is noted as lazy and uninvolved and Byron White, who is noted to be unlikeable, Burger is the biggest loser here. The book was published in the early 80s, only a few years before Burger left the court, and the image of him as a pompous, preening, intellectually deficient and generally clueless politician cost him, big time. In spite of the landmark rulings his Court made, he was unable to reverse the Warren Court's liberal activism (as he had hoped to do). His "Minnesota Twin", Harry Blackmun, would drift further away from him, both politically and personally, until finally becoming the most liberal justice after the departure of Thurgood Marshall in 1991. Burger's Macchiavellian strategizing to assign opinions caused such a backlash that, at one point, William Brennan decides to vote for whatever side of a case puts him in the minority so that Burger won't be able to assign him another crappy oppinion.
Ultimately, Burger had good intentions, but his blunders dominate the book. He is a fascinating character, almost as bad a manager and as delusional as David Brent from the recent BBC TV Series The Office. Some of the principals come out looking good: Potter Stewart, for example, and Brennan also. But Rehnquist comes out best, in spite of some scheming and obfuscation. Burger, though, is front and center, and he's a reminder of how we're to seriously we all should take the business of the Court.
Top reviews from other countries
The Brethren is really a historic look and examination of the inner-workings of the Supreme Court of the United States of America and covers such areas as inner conflict amongst the judiciary, inner-politics, personalities, abilities of the judiciary, competence of the judiciary, government influence, political influence on decisions of the court, conference voting, assignments of majority opinions of the court, judicial strategy, judicial idiosyncrasies, judicial behaviour and respect towards each other, judicial compromises and deals and the ideological make-up of the court not seen by the average citizen.
The book also addresses areas that are not normally made public such as the role of moderates of the court, voting compromises amongst the judiciary, the writing of court opinions, how the judiciary advance their own ideology and beliefs in their decisions, how written opinions are often amended and why, concerns of the judiciary about new appointments to the court, personal lives of the judiciary, influence of law clerks on the judiciary, the inner workings of the law clerks, the role and influence of the Chief Justice, constitutional arguments and the true workings and operations of the 14 Justices of Supreme Court of America during the late 1960's and early 1970's.
The Brethren affords the reader to view the workings of the Supreme Court of America from the inside out rather than from the outside in!