Justice Sonia Sotomayor is the first Hispanic and the third woman to be appointed to the United States Supreme Court. In her memoir, My Beloved World, Sotomayor traces the history of her family and her meteoric rise from the projects of the Bronx in New York to the hallowed halls of Washington, DC. Through sheer determination, she managed to overcome the challenges of juvenile diabetes and other obstacles to become the first in her family to go to college.
She then goes on to a brilliant career in law, culminating in her appointment to the Supreme Court. Her memoir concentrates on her immigrant family from Puerto Rico and the tight bond she had with all her relatives. While I found her “rags to riches” story stimulating and heartwarming, I was disappointed that the story ended with her appointment to the Supreme Court in 2009 and didn’t discuss her work on the Court.
Former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court, provides a different insight into the court in her book, Out of Order: Stories from the History of the Supreme Court. O'Connor called her book Out of Order because, “Most people know the Court only as it exists between the bangs of the gavel, when the Court comes to order to hear arguments and give opinions. But the stories of the Court and the Justices that come from the ‘out of order’ moments add to the richness of the Court as both a branch of our government and a human institution.”
We learn nuggets about some of the seminal cases the Court decided and some of the giants in its history. The early history of the Court is particularly interesting. The early Justices actually “rode the circuit.” They traveled by horseback and wagons to different cities to hear and rule on cases.
While I enjoyed some of the stories, I was disappointed that the book had only 165 pages of original text with an appendix of The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. I'm sure there is much more to tell about the Court's history and the many characters that occupied its chambers. And I didn't need almost half the book taken up with historical documents easily available online.
My disappointments with those two books were overcome by Jeffrey Toobin's latest book on the Court, The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court. Toobin is a recognized expert on the Court, as you might know from his prize-winning book, The Nine. The substance and controversy that were missing in the Sotomayor and O'Connor books are more than made up for in this “no holds barred” account of the relationship between the Obama White House and the Roberts’ Court. The title and the conflict stem from their very first encounter, when Roberts mangled the Presidential Oath of Office so badly that Obama had to take it again the next day to make sure he was legally President.
Under Roberts’ leadership, the Court seems to be in a constant battle with the Obama administration as two dynamic leaders differ constantly on so many constitutional issues. If you want the inside scoop on our current Supreme Court, Toobin’s book will provide you with thought-provoking insights that will have you begging for more.