Supreme Court Reading List

Published:  Aug 23, 2016

Supreme Court Is Fodder for Late-Summer Reading

Are we entering a new era of Supreme Court literature? It certainly seems that way, given the steady flow of review copies of new books—fiction and nonfiction—that make their way to my desk.

Fiction seems to be the trending new sector, with three new works that veer eerily close either to real life or to a justice’s worst nightmare, or both. (See above.)

And it’s not just books. Operas, plays and movies with Supreme Court themes are proliferating. Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman portrays Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in an upcoming movie that touches on her days as a women’s rights litigator.

“The court is tapping more into the public consciousness these days,” says Jon Malysiak, director of Ankerwycke Books, the publishing imprint of the American Bar Association.

“All of the books seem very intent on providing a more human face” for the court, Malysiak said, piercing the aloof and “mythic” qualities of the real court.

The outsize personalities of Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia and the growth of social media interest in the court have also provoked more curiosity about the justices, he said.

“Part of the appeal of these books is to pull back the curtain on a world that seems very secretive,” Malysiak said.

Since launching in 2014, Ankerwycke has published three fiction books in which the Supreme Court plays a key role, and another is set for next February. Written by playwright Anton Piatigorsky, the book titled “Al-Tounsi” will explore the motivations and backgrounds of nine fictional justices as they debate a single Guantánamo-like case involving terrorist detainees.

Some other forthcoming books on the court include: “My Own Words: Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” a collection of her writings, compiled by her biographers Mary Hartnett and Wendy Williams; “I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makers Her Mark,” a children’s book by former Legal Times staffer Debbie Levy; and “Unraveled,” a sequel about the battle to undo the Affordable Care Act by court scholar and blogger Josh Blackman.

In recent articles, The National Law Journal and Supreme Court Brief have discussed other Supreme Court titles: “Against the Death Penalty,” “Fair Labor Lawyer,” “Advanced Appellate Advocacy” and “The Vicar of Christ.”

Here are more 2016 nonfiction Supreme Court books worth reading:

•Though Justice Louis Brandeis has been the subject of several major biographies, National Constitutional Center head Jeffrey Rosen has written a shorter one titled “Louis D. Brandeis, American Prophet” to introduce a new generation to the justice’s constitutional philosophy and to mark the 100th anniversary of his joining the court.

•“The Burger Court and the Rise of the Judicial Right,” by Columbia Law School professor Michael Graetz and former New York Times correspondent Linda Greenhouse, takes a fresh look at the Burger court and, with the aid of justices’ papers, argues that it was an important precursor to the hot-button legal issues of today.

•David Cole’s “Engines of Liberty,” which argues that the Supreme Court is not the only vehicle of constitutional change, takes on new interest and importance now that the Georgetown University Law Center professor has been named the next legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

•Author Gillian Thomas humanizes the fight against sex discrimination in “Because of Sex” by briskly introducing the reader to the women who litigated 10 landmark Title VII Supreme Court cases, from Phillips v. Martin Marietta in 1971 to Young v. United Parcel Service in 2015.

•If you were really hankering for a Supreme Court confirmation hearing this summer, former National Law Journal reporter Todd Ruger’s “Supreme Showdowns” will help fill the gap with an e-book offering interesting bits from recent confirmation hearings.

•“Business and the Roberts Court,” edited by Case Western Reserve University School of Law professor Jonathan Adler, takes a valuable and critical look at the Roberts court’s “pro-business” reputation.

•In the pantheon of Supreme Court blunders, Buck v. Bell, which approved eugenic sterilization, is less known than Plessy v. Ferguson or Korematsu v. United States, but just as jaw-dropping, as Adam Cohen’s book “Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck” amply demonstrates.

•If the public’s dislike for the Citizens United decision leads to a push for a new way of looking at the constitutionality of campaign finance reform, election law scholar Richard Hasen’s “Plutocrats United” may lead the way.

•“The Curious Case of Kyrias Joel” tells the story, from the unique perspective of plaintiff Louis Grumet, of the 1994 Supreme Court challenge to the creation of a public school district in New York exclusively benefiting a single religious group.

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