Appellate Advocacy Blog

Editor: Tessa L. Dysart
The University of Arizona
James E. Rogers College of Law

Monday, September 16, 2019

Before They were on the Court

Recently, biography and memoir have been my favorite pleasure-reading categories, and I’ve found myself drawn to books detailing the lives of Supreme Court Justices, particularly what path took them to the high court. For me, two have stood out this summer, as they tell the inspiring stories of Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman Supreme Court Justice, and Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina Supreme Court Justice.

First, by Evan Thomas is a biography of Sandra Day O’Connor, and it’s well-worth a read, particularly for those of us who never knew a time when there was not a woman on the Supreme Court. That was not the world Sandra Day was born into in 1930, and her rugged western upbringing prepared her to blaze trails both in Arizona and in D.C. Thomas impressively weaves together the threads from childhood, to political activism in Arizona, to the bench. I grew up in the eighties, went to college in the ninety’s, and only knew Justice O’Connor as the “swing vote,” and a highly-visible member of the Rehnquist court. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the other aspects of her life, and Thomas’s take on how they impacted her jurisprudence.

I chose Sonia Sotomayor’s My Beloved World because she came to speak at the University of Houston last year, and several things she said about her journey intrigued me. As an educator, I wanted to learn more about her time at Princeton where she realized that she had ground to make up, particularly in argument and writing skills when compared to her affluent classmates coming from excellent prep schools. On the whole, the book is warm and displays the same charm I experienced in an auditorium full of people at her visit. It ends with her appointment to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, though, so there is no discussion of her time on any bench. Instead, it’s an intimate telling of her childhood, schooling, family, and career, leading into her judicial life. While there is no explanation of her jurisprudence, again, there are threads from her early life and career that one can see woven into her later life as a judge.

Dahlia Lithwick’s picks from several years ago are listed here, if you are interested in other suggestions beyond mine.

As a final note, The Education of Brett Kavanaugh, an Investigation by Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly will be released tomorrow. It is sure to be a less inspiring read. Here’s the link to the New York Times book review. While this book also takes a look at the young life of a Supreme Court justice, we all know it will have a different feel. Some may be eager to dive into details uncovered by Pogrebin and Kelly as they looked at Kavanaugh’s “extracurriculars,” but I am not convinced this one will end up on my nightstand any time soon.

Do you have a favorite biography or memoir of a Supreme Court Justice?

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