Courtwatchers: Eyewitness Accounts in Supreme Court History

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9781442212459: Courtwatchers: Eyewitness Accounts in Supreme Court History

In the first Supreme Court history told primarily through eyewitness accounts from Court insiders, Clare Cushman provides readers with a behind-the-scenes look at the people, practices, and traditions that have shaped an American institution for more than 200 years. Each chapter covers one general thematic topic and weaves a narrative from memoirs, letters, diaries, and newspaper accounts by the Justices, their spouses and children, court reporters, clerks, oral advocates, court staff, journalists, and other eyewitnesses. These accounts allow readers to feel as if they are squeezed into the packed courtroom in 1844 as silver-tongued orator Daniel Webster addresses the court; eavesdropping on an exasperated Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., in 1930 as he snaps at a clerk’s critique of his draft opinion; or sharing a taxi with future Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., in 2005 as he rushes home from the airport in anticipation of a phone call from President Bush offering him the nomination to the Supreme Court. This entertaining and enlightening tour of the Supreme Court’s colorful personalities and inner workings will be of interest to all readers of American political and legal history.

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About the Author:

Clare Cushman, director of publications for the Supreme Court Historical Society, is the editor of and a contributing writer to The Supreme Court Justices: Illustrated Biographies and Supreme Court Decisions and Women’s Rights: Milestones to Equality.

Review:

Supreme Court books seem to be in perennial demand, by both students and interested readers.
Courtwatchers caters to both groups by offering eyewitness accounts for an insider’s look at the people and cases that have shaped American history. Packed with stories from the 1800s to the present day, this volume also features black-and-white photographs and extensive notes. (Booklist)

Cushman (director of publications, Supreme Court Historical Society) has written a truly entertaining and informative work on the nation's highest court. The chapters are organized around themes such as the first years of the Supreme Court, appointment and confirmation of justices, circuit riding, feuds among the justices, how justices manage their workload, oral argument, a justice's first year on the Court, stories by the law clerks, and how to know when to step down from the Court. Each chapter is completely infused with stories from those who were there, such as the justices, journalists, attorneys, spouses, children, and friends. Drawing from firsthand accounts, journals, letters, interviews, and books, the author has painted as rich a tapestry of life inside the Court as could possibly be imagined. This book is highly recommended for anyone interested in the history and culture of the Supreme Court. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels. (CHOICE)

Courtwatchers is more readable and fun than any Court history in recent memory. And its very existence stands as a symbol of how much the Court's attitude has changed toward the public's interest in the justices as real people, rather than oracles. (National Liberty Journal)

Too many studies of the Supreme Court are obsessed with ideas and politics with little attention to those who generate them. Clare Cushman provides a meticulously researched and thoroughly accessible antidote to the trend, and, for once the institution emerges with novelistic clarity as a collection of men, and eventually women, with vivid personalities, strong feelings, and every manifestation of the human condition. Cushman wisely relies on first-hand evidence from those on the inside to provide both authenticity and telling detail. A unique work. (Dennis J. Hutchinson, William Rainey Harper Professor, University of Chicago, and editor of The Supreme Court Review)

Opening this book is like peering into a fascinating scrapbook compiled over the centuries by Supreme Court Justices and those who knew them. It is a treat for anyone who cares about the Supreme Court and who wonders how it got to be the way it is today. I enjoyed it very much. (Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who covered the Supreme Court for nearly three decades for The New York Times)

Clare Cushman, one of our most distinguished and experienced veteran Supreme Court observers, has panned a novel and indeed original eyewitness historical account from Court insiders, covering the lives and personalities from Jay though Roberts. Cushman's familiarity with the apposite literature is as remarkable as it is sophisticated, resulting in a fascinating, eminently readable work that will appeal to cognoscente as well as the general public. Courtwatchers represents a major contribution and merits profound attention. (Henry J. Abraham, the James Hart Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia and author of Justices, Presidents, and Senators)

Cushman, the director of publications for the Supreme Court Historical Society, has organized the book into themed chapters that flow freely across the centuries. She includes letters, diary entries, memoranda, and newspaper articles written by justices themselves, their clerks, their spouses, courtroom spectators, attorneys, and reporters. She serves up a potpourri of historical and recent “day-in-the-life” moments that reveal much about the evolution of the court. This tour through American and political history makes for a fascinating trip, bringing us closer to one of our most important institutions

(Middlebury Magazine)

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