Inside The United States States Supreme Court: The Brethren (A Favorite Books Post)

Current cover for The Brethren.

The Brethren is a behind-the-scenes study of the people on the United States Supreme Court during a time when landmark decisions, including Roe v. Wade, where issued. I came across it while in law school, when I told a friend I didn't understand how the Court could issue such conflicting opinions during the same time period. I often felt some underlying reason for a decision was being left unspoken. He loaned me The Brethren by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong.

Not Like Other History Or Political Books

The idea of reading another book did not appeal to me. I was working full-time, attending classes at night, and reading at least eight hours every Saturday and eight hours every Sunday to keep up with the required reading. While before I started law school, my favorite thing to do to relax was to read novels, after wading through dense, difficult case law for sixteen-twenty hours a week, I generally turned on the TV when I had a rare half hour with nothing to do. (That's how I started watching X-Files, which was on after my Friday night class.) I also had never liked any history book I’d ever read, probably because I’d only read textbooks.

So if my classmate hadn't actually handed me the paperback edition of The Brethren (cover shown below), I doubt I would have read it. But I started it and was immediately hooked, flying through it within a week despite all my other commitments. It became the first nonfiction book I loved. I had never read a Bob Woodward book before, so I didn't know what it would be like. (I’ve now read and enjoyed several, but this one is my favorite.) I was fascinated by the horse-trading, personal relationships, and thought processes behind the Court's decisions.

Avon Books cover for The Brethren

When Only White Men Were On The Court

I had an added personal interest in the book because the only other lawyer in my extended family clerked at the U.S. Supreme Court toward the end of the time period of the book—1969-1975. It was a time when only white men served on the Court, and it's interesting to see how their views and politics varied despite all having that in common. (You can see a list of all Supreme Court justices throughout history here.)

My cousin told me Bob Woodward called him when researching the book, but he declined to comment, as clerks are supposed to keep everything confidential. While I'm glad my cousin honored that, I confess I'm grateful that others apparently did not, because the book is fascinating to read for the human stories alone. It also helped me understand the extremely varied reasons why the justices reach their decisions and how the Court fits into the larger political system of my country. I highly recommend The Brethren to anyone who has even a passing interest in how the United States works.