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How About a Supreme Court Recipe for Thanksgiving?

SCOTUS ThanksgivingThinking Dessert here: which, for some, is the whole point of the holiday. And Table for 9: Supreme Court Food Traditions & Recipes has some for you to savor, as did all the members of the Court. Perhaps these sweetened their minds to face the issues on their desks a bit more amiably?

How about the Orange Cake with Grand Marnier and chocolate chips? There’s a recipe provided by Martin Ginsburg, the late husband of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who everyone knows doesn’t cook). His Frozen Lime Souffle (in yet another recipe collection) was said to be Justice Ginsburg’s very favorite dessert.

Your choice: that’s what Thanksgiving is all about—and why not make two desserts? For a copy of the Martin Ginsburg Orange Cake recipe, email the reference team at sfll.reference@sfgov.org and we will send it to you. For the many other recipes and conjunctions with previous Justices and the ones serving now, take a look at the book itself for other temptations such as Chopped Apple Cake, Deluxe Mango Bread, and Permission Pudding; or, as starters, Deviled Almonds or a Cowslip Sandwich. It’s the secret story behind those opinions, and one we can all relish.


Thanksgiving 2019


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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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The Serial Set, Part 3: Supreme Court Nominations

Serial Set SCtOur first two Serial Set Posts discussed HeinOnline’s new database content of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set, and the differences in the online offerings of Hein and Lexis. Now, for the last installment of our series, we dive into the documents themselves, since none of this would be worth the bother at all if the Serial Set didn’t offer the most vivid view of the history of the nation.

With the sting of Supreme Court nominations so recently in mind, the Year-End Report, 1st session of 97th Congress (1981) [Report of Senate Comm on the Judiciary, Nomination of Sandra Day O’Connor. Executive Report No. 97-22.], regarding the nomination of Sandra Day O’Connor, reminds us that consensus was once easier to achieve. Speaking about the recommendation to the full Senate (17 aye, one present), Senator Thurmond, then Chair of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, summarized those hearings [at p. 147]:

…The Committee recommended the approval of the first woman to be nominated to the United States Supreme Court. In providing the background and recommendation on which the Senate could fulfill its Constitutional duties, the Committee held three days of hearings and considered the views of a wide range of witnesses. On the recommendation of the Committee, the Senate unanimously confirmed the nomination of Sandra Day O’Connor to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court

Twelve years later, in 1993, the nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg was sent to the Senate Floor with a unanimous recommendation to confirm, with a final Senate vote of  93-3. [Nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Supreme Court, Report from Senate Comm on the Judiciary, Aug 5, 1993]

Serial set 3

And in-between, in 1991, was the highly charged hearing on the nomination of Clarence Thomas as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, with testimony given by Anita Hill of a pattern of sexual harassment by the nominee. With contemporary articles pointing out the all-but-too-close parallels to the conduct of the Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh hearings, the Serial Set refreshes history, and our memory, with the report of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which ultimately made no recommendation on the nominee, and with the Committee vote tied at 7 to 7. [Nomination of Clarence Thomas, Report of Comm of Judiciary, no recommendation 7-7. Sept 19, 1991]

Serial set 3a

Among the many speeches by Senators who rose to explain their vote, Senator Robert Byrd took to the floor with a singular and powerful eloquence, explaining why, in the end, he could not vote to confirm Clarence Thomas — ultimately rejecting the nomination in favor of the grace of the Court itself. [Senator Robert C. Byrd on the nomination of Clarence Thomas]

Even after the final vote, 52-48, the narrative continued, with a potent shift to the another part of the story.  A Temporary Independent Counsel was immediately appointed to investigate the leak of the confidential Anita Hill information, the disclosure of which triggered the public airing of the sexual harassment she detailed, and the hyper-charged televised hearings that followed.

Serial set 3b

The subsequent Report of the Temporary Independent Counsel summarized all the key players, and yet in the end concluded that it was unable to identify the source of the disclosures. [Independent Counsel after Clarence Thomas hearings, part 1]

This report of the Temporary Independent Counsel was accompanied by a 172-page collection of exhibits. Among other materials, it included the Anita Hill statement, photographs of Anita Hill arriving at the Senate hearings, deposition testimony from the NPR legal affairs correspondent, Nina Totenberg, editorial cartoons, and press reports and newspaper articles on colleagues of Anita Hill supporting her veracity. [Exhibits to Report by Temporary Independent Counsel.May 1992]

The Serial Set has all this and more.

As the 116th Congress, convened on January 3, 2019, begins its work, all the records of whatever comes across Congressional sightlines will be also eventually be added and indexed and become a part of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set.


Databases at the San Francisco Law Library, including HeinOnline and the Lexis are open to the public for free access at the San Francisco Law Library.

For more questions about research in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set or about the scope of other San Francisco Law Library resources, please contact the Reference Team at sfll.reference@sfgov.org   or 415:554-1772.


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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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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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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).