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The Majesty of the Law: Reflections of a Supreme Court Justice 1st Edition

3.8 out of 5 stars 46 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0375509254
ISBN-10: 0375509259
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

O'Connor, veteran associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, distills in this book the scores of talks she has given across the country and around the world in the 20 years since her accession to the high court. O'Connor, the author of the bestselling memoir Lazy B, is an enthusiast of the American legal system, reaching back to its origins in the Magna Carta and, later, in the English Privy Council, with its power to invalidate legislation. Declaring federal and state laws unconstitutional, of course, is the core of the Supreme Court's authority over this country's legal system, and O'Connor traces the exercise of that authority from the era of Chief Justice John Marshall to Brown v. Board of Education. In other chapters, O'Connor profiles Supreme Court titans such as Holmes and Taft, and reviews the long struggle to gain for women the right to vote. Elsewhere, the author suggests reforms for the jury system, extols the benefits of an independent judiciary and offers a graceful tribute to Justice Thurgood Marshall. Canons of ethics prohibit judges from public comment on controversial matters likely to arise in their future cases, and a Supreme Court justice cannot reveal the dynamics of the Court's deliberations. These rules of discretion pervade O'Connor's book. Divisive (and provocative) issues such as abortion, the death penalty or affirmative action are addressed only in the broadest possible generalities. Purged of controversy, O'Connor's book is an engagingly written civics lesson, delivering a warm appreciation of legal history and principles but little light on the issues the Supreme Court confronts today.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-Justice O'Connor gives a history of the U.S. judicial system with an emphasis on how the Supreme Court evolved into its present form. For students only dimly aware of the court through a basic civics class and the occasional sensational case highlighted by the media, this title will prove to be enlightening. The book takes on a conversational tone, and it's easy to imagine oneself in a university lecture hall with O'Connor as the (usually) fascinating professor who has her feet firmly planted in the real world. To get the most out of the book, it should be read cover to cover. However, it is also useful for readers who wish commentary on particular aspects of the Supreme Court, historical cases, or personalities. The tone is even, and O'Connor has a kind and often complimentary attitude toward fellow justices past and present. High points are her experiences working with Justice Thurgood Marshall, and her thoughts on women and the law. As a bonus, she includes a glimpse into her views on judicial systems of countries that are undergoing their own painful evolutions, such as the former Soviet bloc. All in all, this is a good book for readers who would like a personable introduction to one of our nation's most powerful institutions.
Sheila Shoup, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (April 8, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375509259
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375509254
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #976,412 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jacob H. Huebert on August 1, 2003
Format: Audio CD
I'm not sure what _The Majesty of the Law_ is really about. It's partly a recap of the writing of the U.S. Constitution and a few important people and decisions in the Supreme Court's history. It's partly a history of the women's movement. It's partly Justice O'Connor's personal recollections about people she's worked with.
What she writes is basically okay, but there is nothing particularly interesting or challenging about it. Most of the ideas presented are civics class platitudes--people should be treated equally regardless of race or gender, and that sort of thing. Nothing much wrong with it, but it is not as intellectually stimulating as some other judges' and justices' books.
Perhaps it is best compared to a junior high social studies book, which happens to be written by someone who has spent a couple of decades on the United States Supreme Court. And that's part of what makes it so frustrating: anyone could have given us this kind of runthrough of the material she covers, even without being a Supreme Court justice. Surely Justice O'Connor has more to offer than this.
It's not quite a bad book. It might be useful to introduce a 12-year-old to the material, and if that is what she was aiming for, she has done well. But well read adults who have heard it all before are likely to be bored.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Indeed that there are very few books like this one for which you feel that every minute you spend reading is well spent.

She writes in plain and simple English and every sentence has content, logic and weight. She also writes in a tight and balanced structure, so you can always unfailingly find each of her opinion illustrated and evidenced fully and succinctly. Therefore, even just by the writing style, it is an enjoyable book. Much more than that, it is an inspiring book for anyone interested in the impact of institutions, because it points out many interesting aspects about the government institution that worth attention and deliberation. Just to give an example, she notes in her book that many countries have something similar to Constitution or Bill of Rights that intends to uphold liberty and democracy, but many fail to enforce it nearly as well as United States, a country that enshrines "the right of its unelected Supreme Court to use the Bill of Rights to declare illegal the actions of the democratically elected legislature or executive". The book does not attempt to give a theory about how institutions influence development or how institutions itself evolve, but it shows that these are very interesting and potentially very important questions to answer.

For someone out of the legal profession, this book also provides the very necessary basic knowledge in balanced width and depth. (However, I can understand if a person well acquainted with law may find it too elementary.)
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I found Justice O'Connor's views on the law, the constitution, legal and Supreme Court history and the evolution of civil and women's rights to be entertaining, enlightening and engaging. The writing style is easy to read, the insights thought provoking, and the book a great read for anyone interested in the Supreme Court.
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Format: Hardcover
As other reviewers have noted, this book is not an in-depth analysis of legal issues. Rather it's an attempt to provide an informal, backstage glimpse into life on the Supreme Court from the perspective of the first woman justice.
Some of her points will loom large with women who, like me, were "firsts" on a much smaller scale. For instance, she notes the significance of changing the nameplates from "Mr. Justice..." to simply "Justice..."
As we might expect from a down-home woman who was brought up riding horses in Arizona, O'Connor remains modest and matter-of-fact. She recognizes her role and the respect she deserves. She describes the difficulties of women in the law, frankly and without self-pity, and acknowledges the preference for sharing experiences with other women in law.
And her behind-the-scenes glimpses reflect her perspective as a woman who cares about people as well as principles. She shares wonderful anecdotes about Thurgood Marshall. And she says absolutely nothing about Clarence Thomas, even when discussing the process of confirmation to the Court.
In my favorite chapter, Justice O'Connor raises strong, provocative questions about jury duty. Established 900 years ago, she says, the concept remains sound but the implementation is due for an overhaul. Why shouldn't jurors take notes? Why should they be subjected to long waits in uncomfortable rooms? And jurors surely deserve better compensation, she says.
O'Connor compares US juries with those of other English-speaking countries -- England, Canada, and Australia. She notes that other countries do not send civil cases to juries as frequently, so jurors do not have to sit through days and weeks of complex testimony that leaves them so bewildered they may as well flip a coin.
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Of all the justices, Sandra Day O'Connor, was the greatest in our recent history. She left to care for her husband, who died shortly after she left the bench. We miss her and desperately need her intelligence and leadership.
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