Sometimes, the people behind the Court's decisions are as interesting as the cases themselves. Backroom deals, autobiographical details, and other non-legal influences on the reasoning and leanings of the members of the Court don't make it in to court opinions, but they are just as important to understanding the Court's rationale.
Each of these three books, released in the last year, brings insight into the High Courts' decisions, both from a legal and extralegal perspective. From the Roberts' Court's approach to all of the major issues, to the Supreme Court's approach to the death penalty over time, these books trace the influences on the highest court in the country and its evolving jurisprudence.
The Roberts Court: The Struggle for the Constitution
Marcia Coyle, a long-time reporter and observer of the Court, traces the path of litigants and litigation to the court, taking a focus on the cases, and how they are built, rather than on the justices themselves. She focuses especially on 5-4 decisions in key areas, such as Obamacare and affirmative action, to show the divisive splits in the seven-year-old Roberts Court.
Many have described Chief Justice John Roberts' "long game" strategy, especially after he used a prior decision, which the "liberal" members of the court signed on to, to overturn part of the Voting Rights Act during this most recent term. As a comprehensive review of his court to date, this book traces the long game, and provides insight as to where the court might be headed.
Murder at the Supreme Court: Lethal Crimes and Landmark Cases
A comprehensive account of capital cases before the Court, each chapter traces the crime, the criminal, and eventually, its appearance at arguments to show how the Court's view on the death penalty has evolved.
Other questions addressed include which methods of execution would pass the "cruel or unusual punishment" test, the culpability of non-triggermen, and the disproportionate applicability of the death penalty to minorities, amongst other topics.
A Wild Justice: The Death and Resurrection of Capital Punishment in America
It was an alleged backroom deal that was supposed to end the death penalty, and actually did hold Georgia's death penalty to be unconstitutional. Everyone expected Furman v. Georgia to end capital punishment, yet in the end, it led the states to pass comprehensive laws increasing the application of the ultimate punishment and taking discretion out of jurors' hands.
Each of these books is well-reviewed and are accessible to lawyers and non-lawyers alike. We'll be reading them in the upcoming months and plan to review each individually, but if you've read them, and have thoughts you'd like to share, let us know on our Facebook page.
- Roberts Pulls Supreme Court to the Right Step by Step (New York Times)
- New Book Tracks History of Habeas Corpus in America (FindLaw's U.S. Supreme Court Blog)
- SCOTUS and Big Business, Sitting in a Tree? New Study (FindLaw's U.S. Supreme Court Blog)