Nothing Too Heavy!

October 27, 2014

Not too much going on at the Supreme Court, as the justices get ready for oral arguments beginning on November 3. Before you read on, though, do take a look at Jeffrey Toobin’s October 27 article for the New Yorker, The Obama Brief. It’s a fine review of what is not evident in the day-to-day hubbub:  If not another federal judge gets confirmed—and this could happen if the Senate turns—President Obama has left his mark on the federal judiciary for many, many years.

I ran across Novels Every Supreme Court Justice Should Read by Garrett Epps for The Atlantic on December 17, 2013. Not a single modern novel or best seller appears. Recommenders are Robert Ferguson, a law professor at Columbia, Marianne Wesson from the University of Colorado (who also writes about attorneys), and Scott Turow, who is, well, Scott Turow! And their recommendations for the justices? Read the piece, but know that it’s all pretty toney stuff.

Mr. Epps final comment, in a footnote, caught my eye. Commenting on Justice Stephen Breyer, who reported reading, in French, twice, Marcel Proust’s seven-volume novel, À la recherche du temps perdu, he wrote:

On this court, Stephen Breyer is a distinctly odd duck—bilingual, urbane, a member of the French Académie des Sciences morales et politiques, married to an English wife and well aware of the importance of international law. Yet Breyer is precisely the kind of figure who sits on appellate benches elsewhere in the advanced world.

So intellectualism is not our best thing. Hmm! Probably true, for we are practical people, busy with bid’ness, with no time for flights of fancy, especially fictional flights of fancy, and a high degree of certainty about our specialness.

I have a friend who tells me he reads no fiction for, as he says, no one can create stories that match the reality he sees every day at work. In his case that may be true, but for me, I cannot imagine a world without stories. Here are a few of my favorites, from the world of courts and law, broadly:

[Note:  My list is decidedly less high-brow than the one you’ll find at the link.]

I like very much John Lescroart’s character, Dismas Hardy. He’s a top-rate criminal defense attorney in San Francisco, working in a small firm that plays big, with close ties to former partner and current District Attorney Wes Farrell. His best friend is Abe Glitzsky, former chief of the homicide department at the San Francisco Police Department. How likely is that?

Scott Turow’s books about Kindle County are excellent, especially the early ones. Mr. Turow is also a hero for his work to rectify wrongful death penalty convictions involving innocent people.

Anatomy of a Murder by Michigan Supreme Court Justice John Voelker, writing as Robert Traver, is an old favorite. Set in the UP in Michigan, it features Paul Biegler trying a murder case. (The movie is great too, starring Jimmy Stewart. Attorney Joseph “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” Welch appears in several scenes as the trial judge.)

In closing (almost)—I’m going to give you some lists, too—I highly recommend Gideon’s Trumpet by the late Anthony Lewis. It’s a true story, but it’s hard to believe, still. It’s about Gideon v. Wainwright, the case which gave criminal defendants the right to counsel even if they have no money. And don’t miss To Kill a Mockingbird. The movie is a gem, but the book is definitely worth reading for its great story and its beautiful prose.

Here are two lists to peruse:  50 Best Legal Novels for Both Lawyers and Laymen from, and 25 Greatest Law Novels … Ever! from the ABA  Journal.

Now for just a bit of trivia. Former Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Margaret Marshall, who was married to Tony Lewis for many years until he died, wrote the majority opinion in Goodrich v. Department of Public Health, a 2003 decision on same-sex marriage that led to Windsor and where we are now. And the attorney who the Supreme Court assigned to represent Clarence Earl Gideon on the appeal to the Court was Abe Fortas, soon to be a justice on the Supreme Court.


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