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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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June Book Drive

Book Drive

Each month we will seek donors to purchase a new title for the Law Library. Here is our Wish List for the month of June, featuring books about AI in the legal profession and small claims procedures in California courts. Growing our collection is about so much more than a single book—it is a living demonstration of how the Library expands the public’s access to justice and provides legal practitioners with the tools they need to represent members of our local community. Please see our Donation Guide for more ways to support the Law Library.

AI in Application

AI in Application: An In-Depth Examination from the Legal Profession
Written by Kate Boyd et al.
$195, Paperback, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-78358-320-1

Cal Courts Assn Small Claims Procedures Manual

Small Claims Procedures Manual
Written by California Court Association
$55.95, Paperback, 2018

To donate, please contact sflawlibrary@sfgov.org or call (415) 554-1791.  We appreciate your contribution!


Recent Book Drive Donations

Thank you to Susan Petro for her generous donation of Black’s Law Dictionary, 10th edition, part of our August 2017 Book Drive.

Please take a look at our Book Drive page to see Wish List items from prior months. We are still wishing for these books!

Thank you for your support!


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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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May Book Drive

Book Drive

Each month we will seek donors to purchase a new title for the Law Library. Here is our Wish List for the month of May, featuring books about the infamous Dred Scott case and cannabis. Growing our collection is about so much more than a single book—it is a living demonstration of how the Library expands the public’s access to justice and provides legal practitioners with the tools they need to represent members of our local community. Please see our Donation Guide for more ways to support the Law Library.

Dred Scott

Dred Scott v. Sandford
Opinions and Contemporary Commentary

Written by Douglas W. Lind
$85, Paperback, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-8377-4061

Joint Tenancies

Joint Tenancies: Property Leasing in Cannabis Commerce
Written by Michael Newton Widener
$55.95, Paperback, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-64105-064-7

To donate, please contact sflawlibrary@sfgov.org or call (415) 554-1791.  We appreciate your contribution!


Recent Book Drive Donations

Thank you to Shannon K. Mauer of Duane Morris LLP for generously donating Dissent and the Supreme Court: Its Role in the Court’s History and the Nation’s Constitutional Dialog, part of our February Book Drive.

Thank you to Robert Gates for generously donating The 2018 Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guide, part of our February Book Drive.

Thank you to James Michel for generously donating Fair Credit Reporting and Consumer Bankruptcy Law and Practice.

Please take a look at our Book Drive page to see Wish List items from prior months. We are still wishing for these books!

Thank you for your support!


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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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April Book Drive

Book Drive

Each month we will seek donors to purchase a new title for the Law Library. Here is our Wish List for the month of April, featuring books about collaboration tools for lawyers and witness preparation. Growing our collection is about so much more than a single book—it is a living demonstration of how the Library expands the public’s access to justice and provides legal practitioners with the tools they need to represent members of our local community. Please see our Donation Guide for more ways to support the Law Library.

Lawyers Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies

The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies: Smart Ways to Work Together 2nd edition
Written by Dennis M. Kennedy and Thomas L. Mighell
$89.95, Paperback, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-64105-160-6

Lean Law Firm

The Lean Law Firm: Run Your Firm Like The World’s Most Efficient and Profitable Businesses
Written by Larry Port and Dave Maxfield
$79.95, Paperback, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-64105-138-5

Reinventing Witness Preparation

Reinventing Witness Preparation: Unlocking the Secrets to Testimonial Success
Written by Kenneth R. Berman
$64.95, Paperback, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-64105-050-0

To donate, please contact sflawlibrary@sfgov.org or call (415) 554-1791.  We appreciate your contribution!


Recent Book Drive Donations

Thank you to Shannon K. Mauer of Duane Morris LLP for generously donating Dissent and the Supreme Court: Its Role in the Court’s History and the Nation’s Constitutional Dialog, part of our February Book Drive.

Thank you to Robert Gates for generously donating The 2018 Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guide, part of our February Book Drive.

Please take a look at our Book Drive page to see Wish List items from prior months. We are still wishing for these books!

Thank you for your support!