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Paperback The Brethren : Inside the Supreme Court Book

ISBN: 0380521830

ISBN13: 9780380521838

The Brethren : Inside the Supreme Court

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Book Overview

"The Brethren" is the first detailed behind-the-scenes account of the Supreme Court in action. Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong have pierced its secrecy to give us an unprecedented view of the Chief and Associate Justices -- maneuvering, arguing, politicking, compromising and making decisions that affect every major area of American life.

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Great Timeless Book

This book might seem dated: it describes the machinations of the court from 1969 to 1976, which included, among other things, Roe v. Wade and the Watergate tapes case. However, it is far from obsolete. The Brethren is a still-unprecedented look into the Supreme Court, the most secretive top-level branch of government. Although the faces (save one) and the cases are different, the way in which cases are decided by this body has likely not, plus it is a look at a tumultous time in ours as well as the Court's history. The focus of the story is Chief Justice Warren Earl Burger, who replaces Earl Warren after his retirement. The irony of the names is unexplored, but it is appropriate, because Burger becomes progressively preoccupied with trying to match Warren's legacy. Unlike Warren, though, he allows political concerns and vanity to influence his judgment and, bit by bit, erode the confidence of his colleagues, to the point where the late William Rehnquist, then a young conservative on the Court, makes fun of him behind his back. Although this book is unflattering to some of the justices, such as Thurgood Marshall, who is noted as lazy and uninvolved and Byron White, who is noted to be unlikeable, Burger is the biggest loser here. The book was published in the early 80s, only a few years before Burger left the court, and the image of him as a pompous, preening, intellectually deficient and generally clueless politician cost him, big time. In spite of the landmark rulings his Court made, he was unable to reverse the Warren Court's liberal activism (as he had hoped to do). His "Minnesota Twin", Harry Blackmun, would drift further away from him, both politically and personally, until finally becoming the most liberal justice after the departure of Thurgood Marshall in 1991. Burger's Macchiavellian strategizing to assign opinions caused such a backlash that, at one point, William Brennan decides to vote for whatever side of a case puts him in the minority so that Burger won't be able to assign him another crappy oppinion. Ultimately, Burger had good intentions, but his blunders dominate the book. He is a fascinating character, almost as bad a manager and as delusional as David Brent from the recent BBC TV Series The Office. Some of the principals come out looking good: Potter Stewart, for example, and Brennan also. But Rehnquist comes out best, in spite of some scheming and obfuscation. Burger, though, is front and center, and he's a reminder of how we're to seriously we all should take the business of the Court.

Still the best book to read to understand the Supreme Court

This is still a must-read for people seriously interested in the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, some of my fellow reviewers had to read this for class or were not interested in the topic, which is really too bad, but these individuals should not be the last word on the issue. I would also like to respond to some of the more outrageous comments from other reviewers: "It is not an easy reading." To those who do not have trouble reading the newspaper, it will be extremely easy reading. In fact, it is written in such a clear style, with short, to-the-point sentences, as to be among the easiest books I have ever read. "The secretive world of the court would be difficult for any journalist to penetrate, and here Woodward and his cohort Armstrong prove themselves not to be up to the task." Whoever wrote this obviously had not come of age when the book was published. The publication of "The Brethren" ranks as probably the most scandalous moment in the history of the Supreme Court, because no one to that date had even come close to gaining the insider access that Woodward and Armstrong did-- and no journalist has gotten this close to the Court since. This is an utterly glib and untrue comment. As close as is humanly possible, Woodward and Armstrong penetrated the Court. "'The Brethren' is, more than any book I've ever read, a product of its times. It reflects the anti-war, anti-establishment, anti-Nixon, pro-activist, and downright revolutionary times of the early 1970s. If you choose to read "The Brethren," you should understand that it takes positions as being either right or wrong. And with political powder kegs (abortion, busing, the Watergate tapes, the death penalty, etc.), that is an intellectually risky proposition." Funny, because when I read it I had the exact opposite reaction-- I was upset by the excesses of that period. However, I should note that "The Brethren"'s presentation of the issues is absolutely non-judgmental. It notes with honesty what each justice's view was, in such simple language that it often sounds reductionist. People who have read Woodward's other books know that he is not a partisan hack. Again, people who are really interested in the Supreme Court should definitely hunt this down.

An Inside Look at the Supreme Court

Despite being a bit dated, The Brethren, by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong, remains one of the most illuminating looks at the inner workings of the Supermen Court. And certainly it will remain a very interesting historical look at the court it examines.The Brethren attempts to present the reader with what "really" goes on in the Supreme Court. It describes the conferences, the personality of justices, and how justice's feel toward each other, items which are generally hidden from the public. Covering the terms from 1969-1975, Woodward and Armstrong gives us a look at the fourteen justices and how they dealt with the major issues facing the court. The book describes how Burger changed his conference votes so he could assign the majority opinion of the court, angering William Douglas and William Brennen. He also describes how Thurgood Marshall greeted Burger "Hey chiefy baby", getting a kick out of making him feel uncomfortable. The reader sees how Harry Blackmun agonized at being considered Burger's "boy" which eventually led to his breaking away from the conservative wing of the court. Woodward also tells of the lack of respect the justices had for the abilities of Chief Justice Burger, who wrote poorly reasoned opinions that embarrassed some members of the court.The main thesis of the book is how the moderates control the opinions of the court. A majority opinion must have the vote of at least five members of the court, therefore the opinion becomes a compromise between the author of the opinion and his joining brethren. Even when an ideologue writes an opinion, his opinion must be amended to maintain the votes of his brethren. Therefore, the majority opinions of the court usually reflect a somewhat moderate solution, as compared to the ideological make-up of the court. The Brethren also relates how politics play a key role in the decisions of the court. Justices have predispositions to every case they decide, and most have an ideology that influences their decisions. The role of the moderates on the court is also an example of how politics effects the decisions of the court. If a president is able to appoint enough justices of his political persuasion, the court's ideological make-up will change, as will the direction of the court's decisions. Justices on the court do worry about the effect of new appointments to the Supreme Court. When President Gerald Ford appointed Justice John Paul Stevens to the court to replace Justice Douglas, Brennen and Marshall worried about the future of abortion and busing, fearing a new conservative justice might vote to overturn or limit the scope of decisions in these areas. These are a few examples of the role of politics in the Supreme Court.The strengths of this book include its in-depth view of court personalities, antidotes, and relationships between the justices. These are aspects of the court normally not made public. Another strength of the book is its description of how cases are dec

One of the most fascinating books I've read

Gives an amazing insight into what went on in the Supreme Court in the past few decades, particularly the interaction between the law and the individual judges' quirks and personal opinions. The Justices are portrayed in all their flaws, and it's amazing to watch the seemingly haphazard process produce results, as much through personal politics as through actual legal decisions! A must read.

The veil is removed

Few nonfiction books combine intimate details, startling information, and humor as well as this one. In The Brethren, the reader will make discoveries about the Supreme Court that he will never have fathomed: the Justices are fallible; there is bickering, politics, and lobbying when making decisions; they joke about pornography; the clerks have a secret society, etc. It is guaranteed to open the reader's eyes to a world that he never could have imagined existed. And I reccomend the book even to those who have a slight interest in the law. Additionally, there are guaranteed laughs (and I mean HUGE laughs) from both the subtle and not so subtle humor that is sprinkled throughout.
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