Monday, July 13, 2009

Becoming Justice Blackmun

With the confirmation process for Judge Sonia Sotomyor getting underway I decided to read Becoming Justice Blackmun by Linda Greenhouse. Greenhouse is the former Suprement Court reporter for the New York Times. She was given early access to Justice Blackmun's papers in the Library of Congress.

This is an extremely interesting and readable book. It's not very long, either. Greenhouse is very gifted at explaining complex legal arguments in understandable terms. In parts, the book is a real page-turner.

I was impressed at how much Blackmun changed over time. He really grew as a person and in his understanding of the law. Since justices serve for have and have been serving even longer on the court, no president can expect that the justice he appoints today will stay the same over the years. When a problem gets to the Supreme Court it is often beyond the mechanism of the law, although that is vitally important. The justices have to get creative when there is no easy answer.

I was surprised that Blacmun's most famous opinion, Roe vs Wade, was not written primarily to protect women. It was designed to protect doctors as they worked with women to come up with the best treatment. It was only later that Blackmun became a champion of women's rights.

The demise of the friendship between Chief Justice Burger and Blackmun was one of the sadder parts of the book. Yet, it would have been almost impossible for them to retain their friendship given their different roles on the court and evolving points of view.

After reading this book, I will certainly never think of the Supreme Court the same way again.