Today is the last day of exams! Because you probably have not done much pleasure reading for the last five months, this semester’s final installment of the New Book Series features a book you may enjoy reading over winter break.
In his new memoir, Justice John Paul Stevens reminisces about his tenure on the U.S. Supreme Court, and his experiences with five chief justices. Justice Stevens opens with a brief discussion of the twelve chief justices who came before him, and then transitions to speaking about the five most recent chief justices. The first is Fred Vinson, who Stevens interacted with while he was a law clerk to Justice Wiley Rutledge. The second is Earl Warren, who Stevens argued before during his only Supreme Court appearance as an attorney. Warren Burger is the third – he was the chief justice when Stevens joined the Court as an associate justice. Next is William Rehnquist, who was a contemporary colleague of Stevens’ before he was elevated to chief justice. The final chief justice with whom Stevens worked is the current one, Justice John Roberts.
Justice Stevens provides fascinating pieces of information about himself and the Supreme Court throughout his memoir. His discussion of the chief justices shows how Supreme Court processes have changed (such as how oral argument time has been reduced from one hour to 30 minutes), sheds light on various time periods of his life (law clerk, attorney in private practice, and justice for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals), and gives insight into multiple landmark cases. Some of the most interesting portions of the book come when Justice Stevens discusses his vote to uphold the death penalty, a vote he wishes he could take back, and speaks about his time as the senior associate Justice, a post he refers to as the “second among equals.”
Overall, Five Chiefs: A Supreme Court Memoir is a great read, one that displays Justice Steven’s wit well, and offers a glimpse of what life is really like as a Supreme Court justice.