I was excited to read a book written by the first female Supreme Court Justice who not only broke the judicial glass ceiling but also sat on the bench for a quarter of a century deciding numerous cases that still impact our lives today. What I read instead was a very brief (and infuriatingly repetitive) recounting of the 250 year history of the Supreme Court. Now, a complete history of the Supreme Court would actually be fascinating to read but this isn’t even that complete since she glosses over many landmark cases in favor of repeating what circuit riding is for the fourth time or reminding us for a third time that John Jay left his position as the first Chief Justice to be Governor of New York.
Several notable justices get expanded profiles, namely Justices Marshall and Roger Taney who shaped the Supreme Court into what we have today. She name checks a few other well known justices like former President Taft, who became Chief Justice in 1921 and Thurgood Marshall who was the first African American Supreme Court Justice but she skips many of the big cases these people heard on the bench!
O’Connor also expands a lot about the nomination process and tenures for early justices (namely that in the early decades of the Court people kept resigning after only a few years). For the most part no one really wanted to be on the Supreme Court since it involved a lot of travel, riding circuit to sit on lower level court benches, and the Court heard very few cases. These days the Court has to deny hundreds of potential cases because their dockets are so full.
This book was written about four years ago and about 6 years after she left the Court so she gets to touch on how there are now 3 women sitting on the bench now. Justice O’Connor wanted to retire under a Republican president to ensure an equally conservative voice replaced her (she doesn’t go into this) but I couldn’t help but wonder what she is thinking nowadays. She is still alive and well so she could have stayed on the bench through the Obama administration and retired this year to be replaced by someone Trump nominated. I suppose we should all be grateful she chose to bow out early!