Reviews for Out of Order : Stories from the History of the Supreme Court


Booklist Reviews 2013 March #2
Since retiring from the Supreme Court, O'Connor, the first woman justice, has pushed for greater civic awareness of how the U.S. government, especially the court system, works. In this collection of stories about the history of the Supreme Court, O'Connor offers a sense of how the high court has changed since its formation and how it works in relation to the legislature and the presidency. She recounts Roosevelt's failed attempts to pack the court after repeated rulings against parts of his New Deal program and Truman's failed efforts to control the steel mills during the Korean War, when strikes were threatened. She also offers the history of how the once itinerant court came to be located in its stately building and how the court's customs, including the art of arguing before the court, have changed from lengthy oratory to briefings peppered by the justices' questioning. She recalls some of the larger-than-life justices, the history-making "firsts," and some lighter moments on the bench. Photos and illustrations enhance this engaging look at the history of the Supreme Court. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: This personal look at an American institution from the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court will attract plenty of off-the-book-page interest. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

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BookPage Reviews 2013 March
The Supreme Court in O'Connor's words

Since her retirement from the Supreme Court in 2006, Sandra Day O’Connor has given prominent support to the improvement of civics education, with special focus on the role of the judiciary in American government. Out of Order is fully in keeping with that mission. With a brisk pace and a conversational style, Justice O’Connor’s book succeeds in giving the reader an accessible view of how the court works and how it has changed over time.

Out of Order opens with a vignette about O’Connor’s first trip to the Supreme Court as a “simple tourist,” decades before she became the first woman to ascend to its bench. Now invested with 25 years of experience and a passion for the court’s history, her book is aimed at readers who, like her at one time, might never have hoped to get closer to the court than its marble steps. We learn of how justices were once expected to log hundreds of miles on horseback each year to hear cases in other courts around the country. We hear about notable court cases and discover how they affected the course of American history. We meet great oral advocates and charismatic judges, and we get an inside view of judicial humor and the rituals that permeate the court. Though close followers of the court will be familiar with much of this material, O’Connor provides tidbits of trivia that may surprise even the winner of your local law school’s fantasy Supreme Court league. Who knew that Justice Rutledge could not attend the August 1790 session because he was incapacitated by gout?

It is worth noting what this book is not. It does not provide any commentary on contemporary judicial debates, nor is it colored by O’Connor’s opinions. Indeed, the book’s tone is such that the reader may sometimes forget that the author is a person who lived the history she’s writing about. But what Out of Order does do is provide a clear, informative and entertaining lesson in history and civics. Those searching for a fundamental understanding of the Supreme Court will do well to turn to this volume.

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2013 March #1
Here comes the judge--and she has stories to tell. O'Connor (The Majesty of the Law, 2003, etc.), the first woman to serve as a justice on the Supreme Court--though, she hastens to add, not the first woman to hold a post of importance in that highest judiciary in the land--has been retired for half a decade, but still she is asked what being a justice is like. And, of course, she's heavily involved in civic education, educating Americans about what being American is about. The result is this lightly told but deeply thought-through history of the court, part of "a government that develops and evolves, that grows and changes, over time." Her case studies are many, including Marbury v. Madison, which articulated some of that evolution and established the court's authority as the final arbiter of the constitutionality of legislation, and some of Daniel Webster's greatest hits--for, she reminds us, Webster argued some 200 cases before the court, "known for his ability to marshal precedents and historical evidence with skill." Apart from the most significant cases, such as Brown v. Board of Education, O'Connor examines just a few minor cases and then mostly to illustrate points about the humanity of the court--Scalia is a funny guy, Rehnquist was a card, etc. She is candid, opinionated and even entertaining throughout, though we wait breathlessly for the fly-on-the-wall story of how the Supreme Court decided to give George W. Bush the presidency. For the time being, a well-considered, lively survey of what the Supreme Court does, how it's constituted and, bonus round, how to argue before it. Copyright Kirkus 2013 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Library Journal Express Reviews
Former Supreme Court justice O'Connor has written a lively history of the court, its origins, its relationship to the other branches of government, and its difficult road to prominence in the United States. The opening chapters talk about the U.S. Constitution and its provision for a judiciary, with few details as to its structure. O'Connor's stories of the earliest days of the Supreme Court and the difficulties of circuit-riding, along with the court's lack of a permanent home, show how tenuous the nation's early years really were. Subsequent chapters talk about how the modern Supreme Court was shaped by past law and practice. O'Connor also gives an insider's view of the court's ceremonies, such as the investiture for new justices, and the way that cases are decided. Her stories about former colleagues add extra appeal and humor. Verdict This book is written for the layperson. Readers looking for an introduction to the workings of the court that is interesting and easy to understand but not condescending will enjoy this book.--Becky Kennedy, Atlanta-Fulton P.L. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2013 March #1

The first female Supreme Court justice attempts to shed light on some of its transformations, offering "snapshots of the people and events that reflect the Court's evolution and journey." Since its inception in 1790, the Court has had its share of colorful characters, landmark cases, and an early history that belies its contemporary status as a well-respected institution. O'Connor tells tales of memorable justices--including former president William Howard Taft and first Chief Justice John Jay--and admits to how overwhelming her first day on the job was. She relates how presentations to the court are often nervously made by lawyers, who were famously advised back in 1940 to "rejoice when the Court asks questions." There are no longer interminable oral arguments, because "the Court's modern practice has homed in on the legal, rather than the emotional, aspects of the case." O'Connor profiles four justices she deems larger than life, and includes a chapter, "Some Laughs on the Bench," that, though amusing, are not exactly belly laughs. The book is rounded out with the text of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and an admirable series of notes. (Mar.)

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Publishers Weekly Annex Reviews

The first female Supreme Court justice attempts to shed light on some of its transformations, offering "snapshots of the people and events that reflect the Court's evolution and journey." Since its inception in 1790, the Court has had its share of colorful characters, landmark cases, and an early history that belies its contemporary status as a well-respected institution. O'Connor tells tales of memorable justices--including former president William Howard Taft and first Chief Justice John Jay--and admits to how overwhelming her first day on the job was. She relates how presentations to the court are often nervously made by lawyers, who were famously advised back in 1940 to "rejoice when the Court asks questions." There are no longer interminable oral arguments, because "the Court's modern practice has homed in on the legal, rather than the emotional, aspects of the case." O'Connor profiles four justices she deems larger than life, and includes a chapter, "Some Laughs on the Bench," that, though amusing, are not exactly belly laughs. The book is rounded out with the text of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and an admirable series of notes. (Mar.)

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