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November Book of the Month: Separate

SeparateSeparate: The Story of Plessy v. Ferguson, and America’s Journey from Slavery to Segregation
By Steve Luxenberg

Reviewed by Aaron Parsons, Reference Librarian


In Separate, author Steve Luxenberg examines the social and historical upheaval that encompassed the antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction-era United States and that culminated in the ignominious 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision, which upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation. Luxenberg begins by tracing the history of the separate but equal doctrine from the northern railroads where Jim Crow laws took hold before the Civil War—dispelling the myth that they originated in the post-war south. He goes on to recount the lives of several of the era’s important figures, including plaintiff Homer Plessy, Justice John Marshall Harlan (the lone dissenter in Plessy), Henry Billings Brown (the opinion’s author), Albion W. Tourgée (Plessy’s lawyer), and Frederick Douglass, leading to their fateful intersection in the Plessy case. The abomination of the Jim Crow laws persisted unabated until 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education, though they were continually challenged by abolitionists such as Tourgée and the wider Civil Rights movement. Separate helps the reader understand the lives and motivations that shaped both sides of the racial and equality struggles during a dark chapter of our nation’s history—struggles that continue to shape our striving “to form a more perfect union.”


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September Book of the Month: The President’s House

President's HouseThe President’s House
By William Seale

Reviewed by Tony Pelczynski, Reference Assistant


The President’s House, by independent historian William Seale, is an engaging—if initially imposing—two-volume history of the White House. Running chronologically through America’s Presidential line, from George Washington (who commissioned the construction of the White House, but never actually lived in it) to George H.W. Bush, the book covers the gamut of White House history in entertaining detail. Housed in a sturdy and handsome slipcase, and running to just over 1200 pages, Seale has written an enlightening history of what just might be the most recognizable residence in the world.

Seale, editor of the journal White House History, is eminently qualified to take on the topic: in addition to researching and writing about historic buildings, he restores them. Seale is clearly interested in the White House from (quite literally) the ground up. And while the subject matter and length of the book may seem off-putting to those outside the presumably limited circle of hardcore White House history buffs, Seale’s lively prose and storytelling keep the reader absorbed. While the focus is on the structure itself, the book’s scope necessarily expands beyond (or, more to the point, into) the White House’s walls, taking into account the lives of the men and women who have lived and worked under the White House’s roof: the Presidents and their families, of course, but also the gardeners, cooks, maintenance workers, and others who have historically kept the place running, day-to-day.

As both residence and locus of Presidential power, the White House has always stood alone, symbolically: while the U.S. Capitol and the Supreme Court building may arguably be equally recognizable structures, they both represent collective democratic institutions. The White House is, uniquely, the home of a single (albeit enormously important) individual and his family. Seale’s expansive history continually reminds the reader that the White House is, first and foremost, just that: an actual American home, filled with the messiness and unpredictability of human life that term implies. Over the years, the building has hosted births, deaths, weddings, funerals, and any number of other milestones of human happiness and suffering, to say nothing of the physical upheavals that the structure itself has endured over the years.

At the same time, the White House has always functioned as something of a national museum and political stage. Even those who have never set foot inside the building can conjure a mental image of the Oval Office, or (as is more likely) one of its many cinematic or television iterations. Perhaps because of the White House’s fixity in the American imagination, various presidents and their spouses have, to varying degrees, attempted to stamp the abode with their own personalities and identities, frequently to less than unanimous critical acclaim (recall here Melania Trump’s much-derided minimalist Christmas displays). Seale does a fine job of surveying the various changes the White House and its décor have undergone over the years, none more extensive than President Truman’s “down to the studs” renovations.

Seale ends The President’s House at the George H.W. Bush administration, although he does include a too-brief epilogue touching on the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush years. At 80 years old, Seale may be done writing on the topic, but his book leaves the reader hoping for at least one more update covering the last two Presidential administrations. While its current occupant has reportedly proclaimed the White House to be “a real dump,” given the care and attention to detail that Seale has so clearly poured into his book, one gets the impression that the author feels very, very differently on the subject. Update or no, The President’s House will likely remain the definitive history of this most symbolic of American residences for years to come.


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September Book of the Month: The Oxford Handbook of U.S. Judicial Behavior

Oxford Handbook of U.S. Judicial BehaviorThe Oxford Handbook of U.S. Judicial Behavior
Edited by Lee Epstein and Stefanie S. Lindquist

Reviewed by Ruth Geos, Reference Librarian


Attorneys use their skills and experience to focus on advocacy of their claims or defenses: briefing the law and the facts of the case to the court in the most advantageous way, arguing the merits and demonstrating how both precedent and public policy goals support their position. The Oxford Handbook of U.S. Judicial Behavior offers another perspective, using social science empirical analysis to look at the dynamics of judicial decision-making beyond the law of the case. In asking other kinds of questions, these studies see the process of judicial decision-making as taking place with a larger institutional, social, and constitutional construct, subject to internal and external influences. Over a wide range of inquiries, the authors assess studies that measure the personal, psychological, financial, institutional, historical, and political influences that impact judicial behavior and ultimately, judicial decision-making.

By poking behind the curtain of the law in this way, a very different look at the courts is presented: how the courts function both as gatekeepers and reciprocal partners in public policy, with hints for the rest of us to glean along the way as to what might strengthen a case, settlement, an oral argument, or a petition for certiorari.

Some of the statistical rigor presented can be dense, but there is much to appreciate in the methodology, especially in the narratives that are caught in the same sociological net. One fascinating example of a study protocol is the use of plagiarism detection software to evaluate how much content of a lower court opinion or content from amicus briefs are included in Supreme Court opinions as a means of tracking influence from these sources. Meta-analysis from another study shows that ideology is a better predictor of votes at the Supreme Court level than at either the District Court or Circuit Court level. Descriptions about the workings of the courts, and particularly the U.S. Supreme Court, offer compelling inside-views, such as the expanded role of Supreme Court law clerks (who have their own law clerk dining room), describing the “cert pool,” established in the 1970s, by which petitions for certiorari are reviewed initially not by the Justices themselves but by a shared pool of law clerks for six of the eight justices (Justices Alito and Gorsuch currently opting out of the pool). Another chapter considers the influences that may have come to bear on Chief Justice Roberts when he shifted his initial position with the conservatives on the court, to join in the vote to uphold the Affordable Care Act. And a made-for-movie story is that of Chief Justice Burger wanting his childhood friend, Harry Blackmun, on the court, which didn’t turn out well for them, but opened a study into the significance of common social backgrounds.

The Oxford Handbook of U.S. Judicial Behavior is perhaps not the kind of book to read cover-to-cover, but it has treasures to ponder, along with an introduction to a new way of thinking about our court system—and the litigation we lay at its door.


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August Book of the Month: Untangling Fear in Lawyering

Untangling Fear in LawyeringUntangling Fear in Lawyering: A Four-Step Journey Toward Powerful Advocacy
By Heidi K. Brown

Reviewed by Andrea Woods, Reference Librarian


This refreshing new book from Heidi K. Brown—litigator, author, professor, and Law Library MCLE presenter on August 9th—soundly dispenses with the tired conventional wisdom surrounding how to handle fear, and instead invites lawyers to distill and untangle their fear. When a new attorney feels daunted at the prospect of facing a cantankerous judge or a 1L worries about an intimidating professor’s use of the Socratic method, the typical advice is to simply “push through” fears, or “fake it till you make it.” But in Untangling Fear in Lawyering: A Four-Step Journey Toward Powerful Advocacy, Brown challenges this approach as being at best, phenomenally unhelpful, and at worst, highly destructive to a lawyer’s on-the-job performance and mental health. Fear is not a weakness, and it is not a motivator. Rather than downplay fear, Brown acknowledges that fear in lawyering is very real and very legitimate—lawyers face stressful situations marked by emotional clients, tight deadlines, and enormous consequences for even a small mistake. In fact, the entire legal profession is a culture built around fear, and lawyers adopt these rights-of-passage as a badge of honor. Brown sees how the culture of fear leads to anxiety, depression, and burnout, and can drive excellent lawyers away from the profession. She posits that legal education and practice can be improved by radically changing how we approach fear.

Brown proposes that we try to understand fear, to tease apart the perceived threats from reality. With self-awareness, we can use specific strategies to manage fear, rather than simply attempting to squelch it with pithy sayings that only wind up amplifying it. She explores the science of fight-or-flight as well as the tangled knot of emotions—shame, rejection, unworthiness, or the false bravado that hides a scarcity mindset—so that we can start to unpack fear’s grip and develop confidence. Next, Brown delves into how other professions approach fear, citing that medical and journalism curricula actively teach students what to do when they make a mistake in their future vocation. Similarly, in the realm of professional sports, the mental and emotional training that athletes receive is instructive on how to stop the onslaught of negative, destructive thought patterns. Brown follows with a four-step program that will cultivate true strength and courage in lawyering, in which we untangle fear, mentally reboot, channel our inner athlete, and build a culture of fortitude. She includes exercises to guide us through this process of learning how to stop repressing fear, and instead, to grow in spite of it. Finally, appendices set forth checklists, teaching strategies for educators, and ideas for law firm managers, and a comprehensive bibliography lists suggested further reading on numerous related topics.

Not only is Untangling Fear essential reading for a lawyer’s own personal growth, but it is also an important assessment of the dysfunctional culture for which the entire legal profession is renowned. As the legal industry continues to study the mental health and substance abuse problems that are all too common among lawyers, Brown makes clear that understanding fear and the emotions that surround it is critical to improving the overall health and culture of the profession.


Untangling Fear in Lawyering was generously donated to the Law Library by author Heidi K. Brown during our May Book Drive. Ms. Brown will be presenting The Introverted Lawyer MCLE program on Friday, August 9th from 12–1 as part of the Library’s Lunchtime Speaker Series.


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May Book of the Month: Closing the Courthouse Door

51o5FtK+zsL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Closing the Courthouse Door: How Your Constitutional Rights Became Unenforceable
By Erwin Chemerinsky
Reviewed by Andrea Woods, Reference Librarian

Esteemed constitutional law scholar Erwin Chemerinsky wrote Closing the Courthouse Door: How Your Constitutional Rights Became Unenforceable after decades of mounting frustration over how Supreme Court jurisprudence has chipped away at the ability of the federal courts to perform their most important and basic task—to enforce the Constitution. He examines how the Court has limited the ability of a plaintiff to sue state and local governments for constitutional violations, expanded immunity protection for government officers, narrowed the instances where the court will find standing for injured parties, restricted access to habeas corpus, thwarted plaintiffs from suing in class actions, and increased abstention by finding more and more cases are nonjusticiable political questions. The result of the Court’s expansion of these procedural doctrines is that many citizens are left with no remedy when their constitutional rights are violated. Chemerinsky eloquently and passionately argues that the role of the Constitution is to hold the government and its officers accountable to those whose constitutional rights have been infringed upon, and if the federal courts are not able to enforce the Constitution, then it is as if those rights did not exist at all.

Most disturbing in this snowballing trend is that the procedural doctrines the Court has expanded are entirely the Court’s own creation—they are not based on the Constitution, and they are not founded on federal statutes. For example, the defense of immunity for government officers is not found in the language of section 1983, which creates a private right of action against government officials who deprive a person of a constitutional right. Not only did the Court create this defense, but it found that some tasks warrant absolute immunity, even for the most egregious violations of a constitutional right, and even when officials act in a way that clearly exceeded their authority. Chemerinsky maintains that there is no need for absolute immunity at all because all officials have qualified immunity, but even here, the Court has made it increasingly difficult for plaintiffs to recover for their injuries by continually expanding the scope and availability of the defense.

Throughout Closing the Courthouse Door, Chemerinsky cites example after heartbreaking example where a person was left with no recourse after their constitutional rights were trampled. Because of one procedural doctrine or another, the federal courts were left unable to enforce the Constitution. Chemerinsky notes that this should be a bipartisan issue, and in fact, he surmises that many conservatives should theoretically welcome the idea of holding the government accountable for its actions. He optimistically concludes each chapter with a suggested path forward, where either the Court itself or Congress could act to rectify these erroneous doctrines. In many cases, the changes he presses for would only restore the law to what it was several years ago, before more restrictive holdings were announced. Chemerinsky posits that the federal courts have been diminished as a co-equal branch of government as a result of abstaining from hearing many types of cases, and that we as a nation should want our courts to be able to ensure that constitutional wrongs can be righted.


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April Book of the Month: The Library Book

library-book-medThe Library Book
By Susan Orlean
Reviewed by Courtney Nguyen, Reference Librarian

Fire. Stolen books. Lawsuits. Threats of eviction. Lack of funding.

Susan Orlean writes about nearly everything that a library fears in The Library Book, her fascinating and deeply researched account of the 1986 fire that destroyed the Central Public Library of Los Angeles. Like the best modern public libraries, Orlean’s extraordinary book is difficult to define: The Library Book is a true crime story of an unsolved arson case from the 1980s; a chronicle of the Los Angeles Public Library and her colorful directors, librarians, and patrons; a study of the evolving role of the library in American society; and a memoir of a lifelong reader and library patron. The sprawling cast of characters includes an aspiring actor with a penchant for lying (and perhaps fire); an eighteen-year-old female library director whose father had to walk her home from work because of her age; and a librarian who sneakily read “dangerous” books kept locked in a metal cage in the basement during her lunch break. All of these elements and more come together to form a sweeping panorama of the public library’s unique place in the community and people’s lives.

Just as a library contains different subjects and genres to appeal to a wide audience, so too does Orlean offer something for everyone by looking at the fire and the institution of libraries from various and oftentimes surprising angles. The chapter devoted to the actual April 29, 1986 blaze rivals the intensity of any action film, while her sobering examination of the practice of book burning frames the fire in a new devastating light. Orlean’s search for the possible arsonist is as riveting as any true crime serial, and her journalism background moves to the forefront as she follows suspects, detectives, firemen, city attorneys, and those charged with dealing with the aftermath of the destruction. Library enthusiasts can delight in the (often cheeky) card catalog headings that open each chapter before reading about the inner workings of a modern public library and what librarians actually do all day. Orlean’s book also serves as a history of the library and Los Angeles from the 1800s to the present-day, for a history of a public library will inevitably also be a history of a city and a community.

Orlean writes that “[A] library is as much a portal as it is a place—it is a transit point, a passage.” The same could be said of her book, which serves as both a record of fires and eccentric librarians as well as a portal to thinking about the importance and future of libraries. The book makes a strong case for the idea that libraries are embedded in a city physically and mentally—physically in the form of the actual buildings as well as through the constant transportation of library materials to the different branches, running like veins through the city; and mentally in the knowledge they guard and the memories they hold for both lifelong and casual patrons. Perhaps we are biased, but The Library Book is essential reading for everyone in any community. Find this book in its natural habitat at a public library today, including ours.


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March Book of the Month: The Legal Career

The Legal CareerThe Legal Career: Knowing the Business, Thriving in Practice
By Katrina Lee
Reviewed by Andrea Woods, Reference Librarian

The Legal Career: Knowing the Business, Thriving in Practice is a useful new book from West Academic Publishing that provides a thorough examination of the state of the legal industry today. It is oriented toward law students and aims to help them understand the business of law and how to navigate within the legal profession as they set out on their careers. This book is also appropriate for new lawyers or those with an interest in evaluating the changes that have occurred in law and better positioning themselves for a successful career.

Author Katrina Lee is well-versed in the legal profession. She is a San Francisco native who attended UC Berkeley, became an equity partner in a large law firm, served on the Board of Directors of the Bar Association of San Francisco, and is now an associate clinical professor at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. With her vast experience, she takes readers on an insiders’ tour of the legal industry, beginning with the traditional law firm business model, and then exploring how legal process outsourcing and legal services outsourcing have transformed the modern practice of law. Lee goes on to examine how in-house practice is evolving and also drives further change in the legal field in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Subsequent chapters cover the seismic advances in legal technology that have transpired, changes in ethics and the unauthorized practice of law as some states move to allow legal technicians, how the legal field is changing to serve low and middle income people, innovations in legal education to equip new lawyers for this brave new world, and finally, how to find satisfaction and even happiness amid the pressures and stress of law practice.

In all, The Legal Career is exceptional in the amount of detail and insight it provides into the inner workings of the legal profession and the fast-paced changes that are currently shaking it up. Most notable are the in-depth interviews that Lee conducts with industry insiders that span everyone from knowledge management professionals and legal tech entrepreneurs, to Big Law associates and “alternative model law firm” founders. This invaluable insider information is the gem of the book.

The Legal Career was kindly donated to the Law Library by author Katrina Lee.