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5.0 out of 5 stars A worthy companion, 4 Jan. 2006
Kurt Messick "FrKurt Messick" (London, SW1) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States (Oxford Companions) (Hardcover)
As the nation prepares to welcome the seventeenth Chief Justice, this book is a wonderful guide to the processes of the least 'media-exposed' branch of the federal government and its highest institution, the Supreme Court.
This book has many handy features for researchers and general enthusiasts. There are brief biographies - personal, professional and judicial - of each of the Chief Justices and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court (there have been 108 in all, with 113 appointments, as 5 Associate Justices have later been appointed as Chief Justice) together with pictures of each. There are synopses of over 400 of the most pivotal cases in the history of the Supreme Court (Marbury v. Madison, Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade, even Bush v. Gore from the year 2000) - each of these cases is presented with voting record (who wrote the opinion, who concurred, who dissented, and who wrote additional opinions) as well as the pertinent issues in the cases and the implications of the decisions.
This is a very comprehensive guide. There are essays on key issues that are very thorough - for example, the essay on 'Federalism' is an eleven page entry that includes general political principles as well as court work. There are essays on each Article of the Constitution as well as each of the Amendments. One of the longest entries is the essay on 'History of the Court', subdivided into major chronological sections - this is one of the best, brief encapsulations of the history of the high court and how it is has made an impacted (and in turn been influenced by) society that I have read. There are also entries on the physical structures of the court - the essay on the building gives an historical overview of where and in what setting the court has met, and minor entries include features of the current building (for example, there is a short entry entitled 'Barber Shop', which talks about the facility for Justices and male employees of the court to get a haircut - it mentions nothing of where O'Connor, Ginsburg or the female court employees might get their hair done). One also learns that there is a basketball court in the gymnasium of the Supreme Court, but that basketball is prohibited while the court is in session, as the dribbling balls can be heard in the court chamber.
There are also entries on key judicial concepts. The concept of Constitutional Interpretation is something that many people take for granted, but is in fact an continually changing methodology. There are Common Law concepts such as the Writ of Mandamus and Writ of Certiorari (each have an entry) as well as the more structured Writ of Habeas Corpus. One also discovers here that 'Mootness' is a word.
There are several appendices that are also handy features. The first appendix, appropriately, is the full text of the Constitution. The second appendix lays out the nominations, terms and succession of the Justices in several ways, including an interesting graphical representation organised alongside presidential terms, as well another chronology that shows number of days without a full court appointed (when we imagine that a few months is a long time to go in the nomination and approval process, we can see that from 1843 to 1846, there were 965 days without a full court).
For trivia buffs, appendix three is a fun piece - there is a listing of the trivia and traditions of the court, divided into 'Firsts' and more general 'Trivia'. Too bad it doesn't list why Chief Justice Rehnquist wore stripes on his sleeves as Chief Justice! Perhaps that is an update for the third edition.
This is a book with great information, as well as a good deal of spirit and wit. It is a valuable addition to any library.
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