Until Bob Woodward wrote his book, The Bretheren: Inside the Supreme Court (Woodward, 1996), the inner workings of the United States Supreme Court were considered off-limits. For nearly two hundred years no one had the courage to investigate how the Supreme Court operates on a day-to-day basis but Bob Woodward, one of the reporters who broke the Watergate scandal to the world, stepped forward and in doing so provided the American public with its first real view of how the Court operates.
Inside the pages of The Bretheren the authors (the book was co-written by Scott Armstrong) covered the Court during the terms when Earl Warren and Warren Burger were Chief Justices. In doing so the authors offered a summary of the various cases ruled upon during the tenure of these two Chief Justices and provided a synopsis of how the two tenures were remarkably the same. The Warren Court was viewed by many legal experts as the more liberal of the two Courts but when the decisions of both Courts were examined in detail it became clear to the authors that in many ways the Burger Court continued the reform process that was initiated by the Warren Court.
The contributions offered by The Bretheren in regard to the decisions made by the Court are interesting but it was the behind the scene stories and the revelations made about the individual justices that were the most interesting. The authors did an outstanding job of discussing the individual personalities and judicial tendencies of the judges on the Supreme Court. The book offers insight into each jurist and portrays them as real people with real problems. Because Supreme Court justices are isolated from the public eye they begin to take on a persona that makes them seem beyond reproach. They appear to be some form of super human blessed with wisdom and knowledge far above what everyone else in society possesses. Woodward and Armstrong, however, manage to describe each of the members on the bench at the time that the book was written with candor while still maintaining the requisite respect for their exalted position. In the context of the book's pages, the two authors describe each justice and provide a glimpse into the unique character of each one. All of the nine justices is described in a positive light with the possible exception of Chief Justice Burger who the authors portray as being a bit pompous and perhaps a bit under qualified intellectually for his position. Each of the other justices, however, is described by the authors as competent and affable individuals. Special respect is reserved for Justice Thurgood Marshall who is described as being a little bit earthy and cranky at times but excels wonderfully during oral arguments before the court. Similar treatment is provided Justice Douglas but concern is expressed as to his health and continued mental ability to fulfill his duties.
In all, the book is a revealing text on the behind the scenes operation of America's most respected institution and provides a look that was long overdue at the time of its writing. It is a recommended read for anyone interested in the mechanisms of the legal system.
Moving forward several decades later, Jeffrey Toobin, who rose to notoriety as a legal commentator for Court TV during the O.J. Simpson trial, writes a new book about the behind the scenes workings of the U.S. Supreme Court. In Toobin's book, entitled, The Nine:Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court (Toobin, 2007), the shrouds of secrecy that still existed in the operations of the Supreme Court are again examined in much the same way as Woodward and Armstrong did several decades earlier but Toobin successfully goes beyond the point that his two predecessors did and offers an even more revealing look into the workings of the Court. Perhaps because of his background and training as a lawyer, Toobin if able to provide a more penetrating look and, in the process, is able to dismantle some of the myth that surrounds the justices. Toobin took a much different approach than Woodward and Armstrong by actually sitting down with a number of the justices and personally interview them in an effort to…