Just finished reading Five Chiefs: A Supreme Court Memoir by Justice Stevens. Okay, not great. My primary takeaway is that when SCOTUS is on the bench, “each justice also has a metal spittoon next to his or her chair . . . .” Big if true.
Here are a few other less important points from the book:
You know how in Star Wars, about 12 people do everything in the galaxy (and most of them are related)? The first half of the 20th century kind of has that vibe in this memoir. For example, Fred Vinson served in the Army during World War I, spent 14 years in Congress, sat on CADC for seven years, resigned to serve as the director of the Office of Economic Stabilization (overseeing wartime rationing and price and wage regulation), served as President Truman’s Secretary of the Treasury, and then did a stint as Chief Justice of the United States. I . . . ride my bike a lot?
In a similar vein, it seems like we used to be more agreeable. Earl Warren served as California’s governor. In 1942 he was elected as a Republican. Weird enough. But then, “in 1946, his reelection was unopposed because he received the nomination of not only his own party but the Democratic and Progressive Parties as well.” (See also page 133 for a confirmation hearing bourbon anecdote that, while quite civilized, will do little for your faith in the process.)
Another Warren story: When Justice Stevens was still Judge Stevens on CA7, he researched a Warren opinion in a labor case. When he pulled the briefs, Stevens was surprised to see that the Chief Justice had copied several paragraphs from the Solicitor General’s brief into a unanimous opinion for the Court. He reports: “Needless to say, that discovery made me wonder about the care the chief justice took, not just in writing opinions, but also in editing the work of his law clerks in cases in which he had no special interest.”
Seems harsh. Chief Justice Warren may have written the opinion, but it was unanimous. Eight other justices signed on, and they’d all read the SG’s brief. It didn’t seem to bother them. As a lawyer, I’d consider it the single greatest compliment in my career if SCOTUS copied several paragraphs from my brief without attribution.
Mandatory Sir Thomas More quotation about cutting down the law at pages 146-47.