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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Slattery

8 Books to Read in the New Year

We know you're counting down the minutes (or is that just us?) until the justices return on Friday, January 5 for their first conference of 2024. And they'll be back to hear oral arguments starting Monday, January 8. Check in next week for a preview of the upcoming cases. In the meantime, here are eight SCOTUS-related books (old and new) to add to your reading list in 2024.  

Walter Stahr’s award-winning 2022 book revives the memory of an often overlooked figure who played an important role in our nation’s history, Salmon P. Chase, the sixth Chief Justice of the United States. He’s “best remembered as a rival of Lincoln’s for the Republican nomination in 1860—but there would not have been a national Republican Party, and Lincoln could not have won the presidency, were it not for the groundwork Chase laid over the previous two decades.” Before leading the Supreme Court in the wake of the Civil War, Chase served as Treasury Secretary, a senator from Ohio, and earned the nickname “Attorney General of Fugitive Slaves” for his legal representation of countless runaway slaves. Check out this podcast episode featuring Walter Stahr and the SCOTUS Ladies, where we discussed Chase and his political powerhouse daughter Kate. 

Evan Thomas’s “intimate, inspiring, and authoritative biography” of Sandra Day O’Connor draws on “exclusive interviews and first-time access to Justice O’Connor’s archives." This biography tells the story of “a woman who repeatedly shattered glass ceilings—doing so with a blend of grace, wisdom, humor, understatement, and cowgirl toughness.” Thomas paints a “remarkably vivid and personal portrait of a woman who loved her family, who believed in serving her country, and who, when she became the most powerful woman in America, built a bridge forward for all women.” Now is the perfect time to learn more about the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

CNN’s Joan Biskupic followed up her tour-de-force biography of Chief Justice John Roberts with this peek behind the curtains, promising to display “the inner maneuverings among the Supreme Court justices that led to the seismic reversal of Roe v. Wade.” With “unparalleled access to key players, Biskupic shows the tactics of each justice and reveals switched votes and internal pacts that typically never make the light of day, yet will have repercussions for generations to come.” Grab your popcorn and get ready for court intrigue.

This 2015 book by legal historian Melvin Urofsky was our Bible when we started Dissed, a podcast celebrating dissents. Urofsky details “the role the Supreme Court has played in helping to define what the Constitution means, how the Court’s majority opinions have not always been right, and how the dissenters, by positing alternative interpretations, have initiated a critical dialogue about what a particular decision should mean. This dialogue is sometimes resolved quickly; other times it may take decades before the Court adjusts its position.” Dissent (both on and off the Court), is “a crucial ingredient in keeping the Constitution alive and must continue to be so.” (We also were pleased to have Melvin Urofsky join us for an episode of Dissed dedicated to Justice John Marshall Harlan, aka the Great Dissenter.)

judge book cover

Sixth Circuit Judge Amul Thapar takes on the caricature of Clarence Thomas as the “cruelest justice, a betrayer of his race, an ideologue, and the enemy of the little guy.” Thapar demolishes that caricature, telling the stories of Americans whose struggles for justice reached the Supreme Court. “A woman in debilitating pain whose only effective medication has been taken away by the government, the motherless children of a slain police officer, victims of sexual assault— read their eye-opening stories, stripped of legalese, and decide for yourself whether Thomas’s originalist jurisprudence delivers equal justice under law.” 

This brings together two of my favorite things: Justice Thomas and an excuse to talk about Kentucky. I sat down with Judge Thapar, whose chambers are in Northern Kentucky, back in 2019. You can listen to our conversation, starting at 11:30. And you know we talked about our shared love of the Bluegrass State.

Here are a few books that will come out in 2024. Pre-order them today!

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Jeffrey Rosen, the president of the National Constitution Center, explores what the pursuit of happiness meant to the Founding generation through profiles of six influential founders (John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington).

"By reading the classical Greek and Roman moral philosophers who inspired the Founders, Rosen shows us how they understood the pursuit of happiness as a quest for being good, not feeling good—the pursuit of lifelong virtue, not short-term pleasure.” The Pursuit of Happiness is “more than an elucidation of the Declaration’s famous phrase; it is a revelatory journey into the minds of the Founders, and a deep, rich, and fresh understanding of the foundation of our democracy." This classics-loving fan of the Founders can't wait.

Justice Stephen Breyer is spilling the tea on textualism. Breyer makes the case that instead of focusing on the text and trying to uncover how it was understood at the time of drafting, “[m]ost important in interpreting law . . . is to understand the purposes of statutes as well as the consequences" of the court's rulings. He illustrates these principles by examining some of the most important cases in our nation’s history, including Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization and New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen that he argues were wrongly decided and have led to harmful results. While he may have hung up his robes, Justice Breyer's work is not done. 

Founding Father and scroll

Journalist A.J. Jacobs—a self-described human guinea pig who previously spent a year “living biblically”—sought to live as the Founding Fathers did in 1790 in order to better understand the Constitution. He blends “unforgettable adventures—delivering a handwritten petition to Congress, applying for a Letter of Marque to become a legal pirate for the government, and battling redcoats as part of a Revolutionary War reenactment group—with dozens of interviews from constitutional experts from both sides. Jacobs dives deep into originalism and living constitutionalism, the two rival ways of interpreting the document.” Jacobs “provides an entertaining yet illuminating look into how this storied document fits into our democracy today.” Perhaps the moral of the story will be that the Constitution is more relevant today than tricorne hats and pantaloons.

And while publication dates have not been announced for forthcoming books by Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Ketanji Brown Jackson, we're eager to read those as soon as they hit bookshelves. We at SCOTUS Ladies hope you enjoy the rest of this interstitial time between Christmas and the new year. Cheers to 2024!


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