The Brethren – Inside the Supreme Court: Book Review
The Brethren, co-authored by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong, is an in-depth documentary of the United States Supreme Court from 1969 to 1975, under the leadership of Warren Burger. The book attempts to present the reader with what "really" goes on in the Supreme Court. It describes the conferences, the personality of justices, and how justice's feel toward each other, items which are generally hidden from the public. This book is comparable to a lengthy newspaper article. Written more as a source of information than of entertainment, The Brethren is the brutal truth, but not boring. The storytelling is clearly slanted against the Burger court but the overall quality of the work makes the bias forgivable. Readers learn how the members of the Court see their mandate and also see the enormous role the clerks play in shaping the rulings of the Court.
The Brethren shows the flowering of Nixon's four judicial selections: Warren E. Burger, Harry A. Blackmun, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., and William H. Rehnquist. The final chapter introduces President Ford's only appointment, John Paul Stevens. Burger was Nixon's first appointee, replacing retiring Chief Justice Earl Warren. By the late 1960s, federal courts and school districts were struggling with court ordered busing. Once Burger joined the court, the longtime Nixon friend clearly showed an interest in moving away from these liberal decisions. However, Woodward goes to great lengths to illustrate how Burger's indecision, lack of tact, poor legal reasoning and overall gauche demeanor hampers his own effectiveness.
The book takes heavy aim at what author feels are Burger's negative personality traits. The Chief's pettiness manifested itself to Rehnquist, who was intellectually a natural ally. As the junior justice, he was obliged to organize the Court's 1975 Christmas Party. Rehnquist approved a play put on by the clerk's in which all the justices by the Chief found amusing. Burger circulated a memo graciously thanking Rehnquist for his work on the party. However at the next opportunity of case assignment's the junior justice found himself given only one: an insignificant Indian tax dispute.
Woodward describes time and time again cases where the Burger would switch his vote to a majority's just for the purposes of assigning the majority opinion. Also as Chief Justice, he would wait to vote until all the other Justices have cast theirs. At first, he used this tactic to influence the scope and direction of the decision. The book describes how Burger changed his conference votes so he could assign the majority opinion of the court, angering William Douglas and William Brennen. He also describes how Thurgood Marshall greeted Burger "Hey chiefy baby", getting a kick out of making him feel uncomfortable. The reader sees how Harry Blackmun agonized at being considered Burger's "boy" which eventually led to his breaking away from the conservative wing of...