July 12, 2005

What do Denzel Washington and Emilio Garza have in common?

Gelf recommends some background reading to get up to speed on the Supreme Court.

Aaron Zamost

When major news breaks, it's good to have some background knowledge of what's going on, if for no other reason than to impress people with your lively cocktail-party banter. There are several ways to become more familiar with current events. For example:

To learn more about the secret conclave to select a successor to Pope John Paul II, many aspiring religious scholars read Horace Mann's papal history The Lives of the Popes in the Early Middle Ages.

Others, including some at Fox News, read Dan Brown's bestseller Angels and Demons.

As a service to our readers, Gelf's very own book nerd, Aaron Zamost, will present two books relevant to recent news: one for people who enjoy reading Tom Robbins—and another for those who like Tony Robbins. It's a lot like the "What's Hot" fashion section of US Weekly, but without all that crap about Lindsay Lohan.


The Brethren: Inside the Supreme Court, by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong

In The Brethren, Woodward and Armstrong (doesn't have quite the same ring to it, huh?) present an illuminating look at life inside the Warren Burger court. The Brethren was a big deal when it was first released in 1979; its behind-the-scenes account of the traditionally most secretive branch of government exposed the inner workings of the Supreme Court as nothing more than bush-league infighting. But it also offered a serious explanation of how decisions that affect the most important issues in America are often the result of unbelievably narrow "compromises," e.g., how do you deal with a situation in which Justice X will only join an opinion if, say, you eliminate Part 1, but Justice Y will only join if you keep it? (O'Connor was often a swing vote on these types of decisions.)

As far as legal books go, The Brethren is a pretty easy read, and given the likelihood of a Rehnquist retirement, it's interesting to learn about the Chief's early years as a Nixon appointee. It's a lot like watching Anakin Skywalker go pod-racing.

The Pelican Brief, by John Grisham

Someone is assassinating Supreme Court justices—and it isn't the Family Research Council. A second-year law student at Tulane has figured out why. Then she almost gets blown up. Then she gets together with a reporter from the Washington Post. Then he almost gets blown up.

The characters in The Pelican Brief are really serious, probably because they don't like to use subject pronouns. They say things like, "Won't work," and "Told me to kiss his ass," and "Didn't want to hear it." Grisham wrote this book in 37 minutes. Don't confuse it with his own version of The Brethren, a CIA thriller that took him almost an hour and a half.

You know The Pelican Brief is fiction when the views of one of the Supreme Court justices are summarized as follows: "government over business, the individual over government, the environment over everything." In real life, even the "liberal" justices have been getting together to ban medicinal marijuana and permit personal property seizures for private economic development.

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Article by Aaron Zamost

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