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Five Chiefs: A Supreme Court Memoir Hardcover – October 3, 2011
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"A gentle memoir by a decent and accomplished public servant. Stevens opts not for jabs or evening scores but rather for reminiscences...Laced with observations on the court's architecture, traditions and even its seating arrangements, it is the collected ruminations of a man who has served his country in war and peace, across the decades... His memoir is as gracious as its author and a reminder that Stevens is more than a longtime member of the nation's highest court. He is a national treasure."―Jim Newton, Los Angeles Times
"Five Chiefs is a 248-page bow-tie; like its dignified author, and his famous sartorial flourish, an unpretentious but important addition to American history...At its core, the book is not just another memoir from yet another judge. It marks instead the end of an era on the Supreme Court and in the broader swath of American law and politics...Stevens' focused eye gives way to a hundred or so smaller points, some densely legal, some historical, some even funny...Five Chiefs is the right book at the right time. It's a brief and largely defanged reminder of some of what we have lost in public life with the demise of the "moderate Republican" on Capitol Hill and the "practical conservative" on the federal bench...A fine new book.―Andrew Cohen, The Atlantic
"A funny little memoir, as quirky and interesting as its author...The biggest value of Five Chiefs is its anecdotal color in filling in our understanding of the Court and its members."―Michael O'Donnell, Washington Monthly
"An informative and very appealing new memoir of life on the Supreme Court...Justice Stevens not only shows extraordinary respect for the Court as an institution, but does the same for his former colleagues-even ones with whom he often disagreed...[It's] classic Justice Stevens: understated and generous to those he differs with, but absolutely clear on where he believes justice lies."―Adam Cohen, Time
"In one way or another, Stevens finds a shared passion-social, military, or just tennis or piloting small aircraft-with everyone at the court, as a way of explaining that at a court, this intimately connected, the commonalities will always outweigh the differences...Coming from the last of a dying breed of jurists who genuinely believe you can learn something from everyone if you just listen hard enough, it is a lesson in how, at the Supreme Court, civility and cordiality matter more, even, than doctrine."―Dahlia Lithwick, Washington Post
"There have been many Supreme Court memoirs, but I can safely say his is the most self-effacing. The title itself is other-directed...And it seems to pain the old-school, bow-tied Stevens that, in order to understand his connection to the chiefs 'some autobiographical comments must be tolerated.' ... Stevens can also be winningly wry."―The Boston Globe
About the Author
John Paul Stevens served as a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit from 1970-1975. President Ford nominated him as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and he took his seat December 19, 1975. Justice Stevens retired from the Supreme Court on June 29, 2010.
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during his long professional life. This is not a dry history, but rather a unique, lively personal memoir full of anecdote and opinion.
John Paul Stevens is the third-longest serving Associate Justice in the court's history. Prior to that he was a distinguished attorney and jurist. He knew just about everyone of legal significance since WW II and is willing, even eager, to share his opinions of them. His ability "to "disagree without being disagreeable," put fidelity to the law above personal opinion and construct sound, logical arguments are also the qualities that he values most in his colleagues. Hence, his admiration for Justices that span the philosophical spectrum from Thurgood Marshall to Antonin Scalia. Justices Byron White and Potter Stewart are frequently praised, and Justice Clarence Thomas is given short shrift due to the rather quirky basis for his interpretation of legal precedent.
Most of all, this is about the five Chief Justices from Vinson through Stevens, and how for good and ill each affected the court and its working. He is evenhanded in his application of both praise and blame. Also of great interest and value is his very brief synopsis of all the Chiefs who had gone before. A solid and at times profound legal scholar, as well as a gifted amateur historian, Mr. Stevens is particularly qualified to perform this task.
Mr. Justice Stevens rights with the lucidity and attention to detail that characterized his legal opinions. This book is an enjoyable journey, where something as seemingly banal as the placement of a table can turn out to effect the running of the court.
The first part of the book is on the Chief Justices that preceded his tenure on the Court then there is a chapter devoted to each of Chief Justices Vinson, Warren, Burger, Rehnquist and Roberts.
I must admit that some of the book was overly technical and I skimmed through that but other areas are quite good.
The interesting aspect of Justice Steven's book is what he doesn't talk about eg the Florida voting decision in 2000 that changed the Presidency of the United States.
Justice Stevens does appear to hold back at times and I hope that one day he will write a true memoirs of his life.
It's not outstanding because the writing isn't as strong as it could be. Where was his editor? Where were his law clerks when he needed them to write!! A bit pedantic at times.
But again, if like me, you find the human, negotiations aspect as well as the legal aspect of the Supreme Court fascinating, this book will build your understanding.
Justice Stevens served on the Court until age 90, coming just two years short of the record tenure set by his predecessor, Justice William O. Douglas. Stevens was wealthy -- his father founded what is now the Chicago Hilton -- and he had the luxury of being able to keep a second home in Florida and his own plane to commute between there and the capital. He mixes in stories of his pilot experience.
One thing kept jumping out at me: Stevens repeatedly used the word "present" in an ominous manner.