Review Essay: The Cult of Personality

AuthorCraig Hemmens
DOI10.1177/0734016808315582
Published date01 March 2008
Date01 March 2008
Subject MatterArticles
The Cult of Personality
A Review of Recent Supreme Court
Justice Biographies
Craig Hemmens
Boise State University
Greenhouse, L. (2005). Becoming Justice Blackmun: Harry Blackmun’s Supreme Court Journey.
New York: Times Books. 292 pp.
Biskupic, J. (2005). Sandra Day O’Connor: How the First Woman On the Supreme Court Became
Its Most Influential Justice. New York: HarperCollins. 432 pp.
Merida, K., & Fletcher, M. A. (2007). Supreme Discomfort: The Divided Soul of Clarence
Thomas. New York: Doubleday. 422 pp.
The Supreme Court has undergone significant changes in personnel in the last few years with
the death of Chief Justice Rehnquist and the retirement of Justice O’Connor. As the Court
begins a new chapter under Chief Justice Roberts, several biographies of current and former
justices have been published. This review essay examines three biographies of justices who
played a major role in shaping the Court over the past 25 years. Justice Blackmun joined the
Court in the early 1970s and wrote several major opinions, including Roe v. Wade. Justice
O’Connor was the first woman on the Court, joining it in the early 1980s, and played a major
role as a centrist, “swing” vote in close cases. Justice Thomas joined the Court in the late
1980s, after an incredibly contentious confirmation hearing, and has sought to undo much of
the work of the modern Court.
Keywords: Supreme Court; biography; justices; law
The U.S. Supreme Court went from 1994 to 2005 without a change in its membership,
the longest such period in the history of the Court. Justice Ginsburg joined the Court in
1994, replacing Justice Blackmun. At the end of the 2004-2005 term, Justice Sandra Day
O’Connor retired, and Chief Justice William Rehnquist died shortly thereafter. The result was
a sudden, significant change in the composition of the Supreme Court with the addition of
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.
The new chief justice insisted during his confirmation hearing that he would work to
achieve compromise and unanimity on the Court, and the 2005-2006 term did see a higher
than normal level of agreement among the justices and relatively few 5-4 decisions. The
2006-2007 term, however, revealed serious divisions in the Court and a remarkable number
of 5-4 decisions, many of which included bitter dissents. Several of these close decisions
overruled prior decisions, leading Justice Breyer to angrily note while reading his dissent
in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1(2007) from the
89
Criminal Justice Review
Volume 33 Number 1
March 2008 89-97
© 2008 Georgia State University
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10.1177/0734016808315582
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Review Essay

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