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June Book of the Month: Benched

BenchedBenched: Abortion, Terrorists, Drones, Crooks, Supreme Court, Kennedy, Nixon, Demi Moore & Other Tales from the Life of a Federal Judge
by Jon O. Newman
Reviewed by Aaron Parsons, Reference Librarian


In Benched, Justice Jon O. Newman writes candidly about his remarkable career as an attorney, federal trial court judge, and Justice on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

With a glowing forward by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor, Justice Newman gives an inside account of how judges think and what they do.

Early in his legal career, Newman clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren. He was a high-level staffer in President Kennedy’s administration for what is now the Department of Health and Human Services, where his many assignments included studying health effects related to fallout from Russian nuclear tests. He describes challenges faced as a Senate staffer, and the difficulty of working with different sides in Congress to agree on even non-substantive changes in legislation.

Appointed as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut, he humbly describes learning on the job while trying civil and criminal cases on issues such as heroin smuggling, enforcing draft evasion statutes during the Vietnam War, civil rights prosecutions, and being whacked with an umbrella by a woman after a takings case.

Justice Newman provides insight into the behind-the-scenes workings of the legal and political system, describing what it’s like to go through the Senate nomination process three times, how judges distribute caseloads, and their negotiation and decision-making processes—such as the preference of some judges to debate with their colleagues through memoranda and not through verbal exchanges. He relates an argument with the late Justice Scalia over statutory interpretation.

His judicial decisions included military drone strikes, a free speech case over school books (among them was Slaughterhouse Five, which prompted a complimentary letter from author Kurt Vonnegut), a law requiring royalties from the book Wiseguy and its movie adaptation, Goodfellas, be distributed to victims, and a case that required interpretation of the Articles of Confederation.

Justice Newman discusses his reactions to the handful of times that the U.S. Supreme Court reversed his Second Circuit opinions, and another when that Court reversed and essentially sided with his dissent. He offers ideas on how to improve the American justice system, including burdens of proof, supervised depositions, and increased use of independent counsel.

Read Justice Newman’s autobiography, and biographies of more judges and attorneys, at the Law Library.

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May Book of the Month: Dissent and the Supreme Court

Dissent and the Supreme CourtDissent and the Supreme Court: Its Role in the Court’s History and the Nation’s Constitutional Dialogue
by Melvin I. Urofsky
Reviewed by Tony Pelczynski, Reference Librarian


Dissent and the Supreme Court, by legal historian and professor of constitutional history Melvin Urofsky, is a dense but lively examination of the evolution of the written dissent in U.S. Supreme Court Constitutional jurisprudence. In less skillful hands, such a topic might not spark much excitement; here, Urofsky manages to keep things moving along briskly enough for the casual reader.

After beginning the book with a relatively brief but informative introduction, including side-trips explaining concurring and “seriatim” (separately-written) opinions, Urofsky traces the history of U.S. Supreme Court dissent largely chronologically, with chapters devoted to particularly significant cases and prolific dissenters (including Louis Brandeis, the subject of a separate Urofsky biography). Early on, Urofsky lays out the historical arguments for and against the very idea of dissenting judicial opinions. To grossly oversimplify, this debate breaks down to something along the lines of: dissent (in the author’s words) “weakens the force of the decision and detracts from the court’s institutional prestige”; versus (quoting Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes) “[a] dissent in a court of last resort is an appeal to the brooding spirit of the law, to the intelligence of a future day, when a later decision may possibly correct the error into which the dissenting judge believes the court to have been betrayed.” The tension between these competing beliefs regarding the role of the judicial dissent, and how that tension has played out on the Court, provides the focus of Dissent and the Supreme Court.

Dissent CourthouseThroughout the book, Urofsky pays particular attention to dissenting opinions that have directly impacted later Supreme Court jurisprudence in areas of universal national concern. For example, he succinctly explains how dissents written in the 1883 Civil Rights Cases provided the analytical framework for the Court’s later upholding of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Likewise, Urofsky devotes an entire chapter to Brandeis’ famed dissent in Olmstead v. U.S., a 1928 case in which the Court upheld the conviction of a Prohibition-era bootlegger convicted on the basis of what would now be considered illegally-obtained wiretapped telephone conversations. According to Urofsky, Brandeis’ dissent ultimately “reinvented Fourth Amendment jurisprudence,” albeit belatedly, as the Court fully adopted Brandeis’ position and overturned Olmstead completely in 1967.

While the significance and role of the dissenting opinion has waxed and waned over time, we are currently living in an era where, by the author’s accounting, four out of five U.S. Supreme Court decisions include one or more dissenting opinions. And since the book’s original publication in 2015, the Court (and, perhaps, the nation) may have become even more ideologically divided. Clearly, judicial dissent has become a ubiquitous feature of U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. To help make sense of it all, Urofsky has written a well-researched and highly readable examination of the history of judicial dissent in U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence, its evolution and function over time, and why it matters.

Dissent and the Supreme Court was generously donated by Shannon K. Mauer of Duane Morris LLP, as part of our February Book Drive.


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Book Review: The Limits of Presidential Power

Limits_of_Presidential_Power_cover-375x561The Limits of Presidential Power: A Citizen’s Guide to the Law
By Lisa Manheim & Kathryn Watts
Reviewed by Courtney Nguyen, Reference Librarian

Written in response to the many questions people around the country have been asking about what a president can or cannot do, The Limits of Presidential Power: A Citizen’s Guide to the Law, by law professors Lisa Manheim and Kathryn Watts, provides readers with clear and concise answers about the laws governing presidential power, and where the average citizen fits into this arrangement. Manheim and Watts divide the book into three sections: first, an exploration of the law of presidential power, starting with a description of the underlying constitutional structure; next, a discussion of the actual powers a president has, whether via the Constitution or Congress, and what tools he has at his disposal to use them; and lastly, a call to you, the reader, to participate in your government and protect these very same democratic structures. From Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company v. Sawyer, the 1952 landmark ruling on the scope of presidential power, to current events concerning immigration and climate change, the authors use real-life examples to trace the constitutional and statutory bases of the president’s vast and wide-ranging power, at all times stressing that the sources of law and powers also define their limits. Indeed, a major message of the book is that with great power comes not only great responsibility, but also great built-in checks against abuse.
Stop Sign

The book ends with a reminder that it’s not only the government and the states that can affect legislation, but also “outsiders”—the media, interest groups, and voters. Manheim and Watts exhort all of us to get involved by staying informed, contacting our representatives in Congress, participating in state and local government, or voting. Another good way might even be to stop by your local law library, especially if you’re interested in further research on this or any other legal issue.

An excellent companion piece to our April Book of the Month, Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide, look for The Limits of Presidential Power: A Citizen’s Guide to the Law at the Library today.


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April Book of the Month: Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide

ImpeachmentImpeachment: A Citizen’s Guide
by Cass R. Sunstein
Reviewed by Courtney Nguyen, Reference Librarian


Often just a footnote in first year constitutional law classes, impeachment takes center stage in the Library’s April Book of the Month, Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide by Cass R. Sunstein. The slim size, minimalist blue cover, and conversational tone conceal a treasure trove of information and insight into one of the lesser known clauses of the Constitution. Impeachment takes readers through the history and historical practice of this “remedy of last resort,” from the Revolutionary War, when the Framers intended this tool as a safeguard against a monarchy and officials who abused their authority, to discussions of the three presidents who have undergone various impeachment proceedings—Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton. Sunstein analyzes the legitimate and illegitimate grounds for removing a president from power, all the while stressing that political neutrality is key.

White HouseIn addition to historical anecdotes, Impeachment also includes constitutional law brainteasers in the form of twenty-one hypothetical impeachable actions (some of which may sound familiar), a brief discussion of the Twenty Fifth Amendment and incapacity, and a chapter modestly titled “What Every American Should Know” which helps clear up some common misconceptions about this essential tool for a self-governing people. Sunstein, a law professor at Harvard who actively participated in the Clinton impeachment proceedings, considers this book a “love letter to the United States,” and that care can be seen in the quality of his research and his emphatic reminder to the reader that impeachment, more than any other aspect of the Constitution, was a “fail-safe” designed for We the People.

So if you would like to learn about the difference between impeachment and indictment, try to understand exactly what “high crimes and misdemeanors” means, or find out why Congress wanted to push out John Tyler in 1842, take a look at Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide, a new title in the Library’s collection.


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March Book of the Month: Table for 9

Table for 9Table for 9: Supreme Court Food Traditions & Recipes
by Clare Cushman
Foreward by Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Reviewed by Ruth Geos, Reference Librarian

Although today the Supreme Court is thought of as a highly divisive collection of Justices, the truth, as deliciously revealed in Table for 9, is that it has actually been the food shared by the members of the Court over the years that holds it together as a community of legal thinkers.

Starting with the Supreme Court’s inaugural session in 1790, then in New York, with 13 toasts at the Fraunces Tavern, the members of the Court (who originally lived and supped together in a local boardinghouse) have always lunched together, and savored shared moments of food and drink. Indeed, Chief Justice John Marshall bottled his own favorite brand of Madeira, with a Supreme Court label.

Table for 9 is in fact a biography of the Court through food: a palatable history of these American times, and reveals so much more about the Court and its working process than the erudite opinions, splits in philosophical bent, and the major social issues the Court faces as part of its work. It is intriguing to see that currently, lunch recess on days of oral argument is one hour, in the Justices’ Dining Room, where legal discussions are strictly off-limits—and the Justices pay for their own meals. Over all the years, the tradition of sharing meals, dinners, seders, welcome and farewell celebrations, has become an integral part of the Court, building a special kind of collegiality that food does best.

The late husband of Ruth Bader Ginsburg was renowned for his culinary skills and devotion to feeding the Court, but so was Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, with her Southwestern legerdemain. Chief Justice Warren Burger invented Oysters Le Burger, and Justice William O. Douglas was renowned for his martini skills. Justice Thurgood Marshall was trained to cook by his grandmother in case the law didn’t work out, and Justice Harlan Fiske Stone was considered the one great gourmand of the Court, with a deep appreciation and knowledge of cheese and wine. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who contributed the foreword, makes evident that unlike her esteemed colleagues, she herself is better out of the kitchen:

I was phased out of the kitchen at an early age by my food-loving children, who appreciated that Daddy’s cooking was ever so much better than Mommy’s. So I will not try out the recipes in this book myself. But I will enjoy turning the pages, pausing at certain photographs, and inviting a child, or now grandchild, to make something delicious for me. Bon appetit!

Laced through with recipes, history, photos, and sidelines on the individual Justices’ favorites (Justice Brandeis loved ice cream, we learn), Table for 9 achieves the best of biography, history, cookbook, and the delights of putting all those ingredients together in the freshest possible way. Also included is a useful Appendix of Justices, 1789 to present, including the dates of appointment and service, and the name of the President appointing him or her to the Supreme Court, along with an index which allows you to jump to Pickled Pigs Feet (p. 59) or Cherry Bounce (p. 38).


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February Book of the Month: Beyond Smart

Beyond SmartBeyond Smart: Lawyering with Emotional Intelligence
By Ronda Muir
Reviewed by Aaron Parsons, Reference Librarian

In Beyond Smart, attorney Rhonda Muir shows why emotional intelligence (EI) is an essential attribute for attorneys to develop for their practices and their lives. Companies like Google and Johnson & Johnson use emotional intelligence to improve employee performance, health, happiness, and profitability. Top business schools teach EI.

Ms. Muir explains what EI is—our ability to understand and regulate our emotions and those of others. She addresses law’s skeptical view of emotions and EI, and then makes the business case for developing emotional skills: EI makes attorneys smarter, healthier, happier, and more profitable. It can also help them become better negotiators and litigators. For example, EI can improve litigation effectiveness by helping attorneys recognize and work with the “gut” feeling that is a combination of many other skills and competencies. It also helps attorneys recognize when an emotional bias may be clouding their views on legal matters.

Chapters 5–7 help attorneys assess their current emotional intelligence, and provide guidance and resources to raise their emotional intelligence that include mindfulness practice, working on perception, empathy, and regulating emotions. One guide to improving mindfulness and emotional intelligence cited by Ms. Muir was developed from a training program at Google. A result was the book and workshops based on it: Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace), by Google’s Chade-Meng Tan, and available at the San Francisco Public Library.

Beyond Smart is one of several new additions to the San Francisco Law Library’s Law Practice Management Collection.


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January Book of the Month: My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg

My Own WordsMy Own Words
By Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Reviewed by Ruth Geos, Reference Librarian

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, now 84, has been on the US Supreme Court—as of 2017—for 24 years. Deferring her own biography until after her court years are complete, her new book My Own Words (with Mary Hartnett and Wendy W. Williams) sketches out her life in vital strokes, first as a student already aware of inequities in the world, then as an advocate, professor, mother and wife, federal appellate court judge, and since 1993, Supreme Court justice. Far from dry and dusty, this collection of her writings, speeches, and other talks are laced with humor and personal perspective. They create a fascinating sidelong view of the life and mind of a sitting Supreme Court justice and the Court itself—with an added sideline into opera.

In a compelling preface, Justice Ginsburg writes that the Supreme Court’s main trust is to repair fractures in federal law and to step in when other courts have disagreed on what the relevant federal law requires. As the book closes, she makes clear her own intentions, and says that she will continue on the Court as long as she can do the job full steam.

Some of the charms of this collection include glimpses into the personal development of who we think we know as Justice RBG. At Cornell as an undergraduate, she had Vladimir Nabokov as her professor of European literature, and learned about the creative power of words well-chosen. Voted unanimously out of the kitchen by her family in favor of her husband’s culinary skills, her work ethic of long and extended hours continues. She also details how the Supreme Court actually works, day to day and session to session, giving an outline of the “workways” of how the justices share the workload, the collegiality among the members of the Court even in the face of doctrinal differences, and the distinct value of dissents.

My Own Words is highly recommended reading that happens to be both enjoyable and informative. It is a view into one of our most scintillating members of the Supreme Court—a woman of substance and style, with an enduring dedication to equal dignity under the law.

As a bonus, take a look at the interview with Justice Ginsburg earlier this year at the Aspen Institute, where she answers questions about her life, the court, and her special views of how the court makes a difference to all of our lives. http://www.scotusblog.com/media/justice-ruth-bader-ginsburg-discusses-book-words/

The Law Library thanks Shannon K. Mauer of Duane Mauer LLP for generously donating this title. To learn how you can donate, please see our Donation Guide.