The Very Short Introductions are a major educational resource. There are presently over 500 small books covering a very wide range of subjects. Although short, the Introductions are substantial in content. Everyone would benefit from reading these books to broaden their knowledge and understanding in diverse areas of life. Perseverance with some subjects may be required but be prepared to be surprised, enlightened and enriched.
The US Supreme Court is one of America's most revered institutions. It is the pinnacle of the third branch of the US government, and over the history of the Republic has had an increasing importance in its public and political life. In fact, some of its decisions have had more profound effects on the life and culture than almost any policy enacted by the rest of the federal government.
This very short introduction gives a very comprehensive and interesting overview of the US Supreme Court - its function within the US constitutional framework, its evolving history, its social and political impact, and the biographical sketches of some of the most famous Supreme Court justices. The book is very well written, informative and engaging. It provides some interesting new information about the Supreme Court that is generally not well known, such as that it only had its own building on the Capitol Hill since the 1930s. The book also provides some insights into the court's politics that have been gleaned form the research on its numerous decisions, and the way they tend to "evolve" over time. The book is very short, even for these very short introductions, but it manages to condense a lot of information in such a confined format. It also provides references for further reading, so if reading this book whets your appetite for more information on this subject, you'll know where to go.
The US Supreme Court and its judicial proclamation are bound to create a lot of interest in the upcoming years, so getting to know better this institution is essential for anyone who wants to be well informed about current events. This little book provides a perfect short introduction and it's an invaluable handy resource. Highly recommended.
The Supreme Court considers and resolves legal issues of great moment in the United States but remains a mystery to many people, both Americans and others. Linda Greenhouse's "The U.S. Supreme Court: A Very Short Introduction" (2012) offers an overview of the Supreme Court, its history and workings, and its place in American government. Greenhouse covered the Supreme Court for the New York Times for over 30 years and currently teaches at the Yale University Law School in addition to continuing to write about the Court. Her book is part of the "Very Short Introductions" series of Oxford University Press. The OUP offers the following description of the goal of the series. "Very Short Introductions can change the way you think about the things that interest you, and are the perfect introduction to subjects you previously knew nothing about. Because of this, they have proven to be extremely popular with general readers, as well as students and their lecturers."
In addition to the overall purpose of the series, Greenhouse explains her own specific goals for the book.
"This book is not intended primarily as a work of history. Its aim is to enable readers to understand how the Supreme Court of the United States operates today. But while detailed knowledge of the Court's history is not required for that purpose, acquaintance with the Court's origins helps appreciate the extent to which the Supreme Court that we know today has been the author of its own history. From the beginning, it has filled in the blanks of Article III [of the Constitution] by defining its own power..... That process of self-definition continues today."
The emphasis of the Court's self-definition of its role as one of the three branches of the United States government pervades Greenhouse's succinct, thoughtful introduction to the Court. She begins with the Constitutional origins of the Court and with Chief Justice John Marshall's early decision that the Court had the power to review and invalidate legislation if the Court concluded it violated the Constitution. In subsequent chapters, the Court and the types of cases it decides, the Justices and the manner of their appointment, the functions of the Chief Justice, various approaches to Constitutional interpretation, the relationship of the Court to the Executive and Legislative branches of the government, the Court and public opinion, and the Court in an international context. It is a daunting task for a book of less than 100 pages.
For all its brevity, the book is highly useful. It offers a good introduction to the Supreme Court with no pretension that it constitutes a full account. The book includes notes and a reading list that invite interested readers to learn more. The book includes short discussions of several controversial Court decisions which set out in simple terms the reasons for the underlying controversy. Given the size of the book, the author devotes considerable attention to two issues. First, the Greenhouse discusses the Constitutional provision for life tenure for the Justices and discusses whether the purpose of this provision (insulation from political pressure) might better be served by an appointment for a lengthy but fixed number of years. The second issue which Greenhouse addresses in some detail is abortion. Greenhouse describes the background of the Court's 1973 decision in "Roe v. Wade" and the controversy it engendered. She then describes the 1992 decision in "Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey" in which the Court narrowly declined to overrule "Roe v. Wade." She examines the opinions in the latter decision for a discussion of how the Court viewed the questions of judicial integrity and the overruling of precedent. Greenhouse has written elsewhere in detail about abortion and the law.
Greenhouse's book fulfills admirably the goals of the "Very Short Introduction" series and her own stated goals for the book. Her "Very Short Introduction" to the Supreme Court will help readers in their understanding of the Court and of United States government.
This is a model for what the VSIs should be: clear, concise, analytical and leaving you wanting more. There are only 87 small-format pages of main text, but the author packs in a lot of information and a lucid explanation of some of the main issues raised by the Court's constitutional standing, and its practices and more controversial decisions. She is clearly an expert on the Court and its workings, but never patronises the reader. Excellent.