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Out of Order: Stories from the History of the Supreme Court

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“I called this book Out of Order because it reflects my goal, which is to share a different side of the Supreme Court. Most people know the Court only as it exists between bangs of the gavel, when the Court comes to order to hear arguments or give opinions. But the stories of the Court and the Justices that come from the ‘out of order’ moments add to the richness of the Court as both a branch of our government and a human institution.”—Justice Sandra Day O’Connor
From Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to sit on the United States Supreme Court, comes this fascinating book about the history and evolution of the highest court in the land.
Out of Order sheds light on the centuries of change and upheaval that transformed the Supreme Court from its uncertain beginnings into the remarkable institution that thrives and endures today. From the early days of circuit-riding, when justices who also served as trial judges traveled thousands of miles per year on horseback to hear cases, to the changes in civil rights ushered in by Earl Warren and Thurgood Marshall; from foundational decisions such as Marbury v. Madison to modern-day cases such as Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, Justice O’Connor weaves together stories and lessons from the history of the Court, charting turning points and pivotal moments that have helped define our nation’s progress.
With unparalleled insight and her unique perspective as a history-making figure, Justice O’Connor takes us on a personal exploration, painting vivid pictures of Justices in history, including Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., one of the greatest jurists of all time; Thurgood Marshall, whose understated and succinct style would come to transform oral argument; William O. Douglas, called “The Lone Ranger” because of his impassioned and frequent dissents; and John Roberts, whom Justice O’Connor considers to be the finest practitioner of oral argument she has ever witnessed in Court. We get a rare glimpse into the Supreme Court’s inner workings: how cases are chosen for hearing; the personal relationships that exist among the Justices; and the customs and traditions, both public and private, that bind one generation of jurists to the next—from the seating arrangements at Court lunches to the fiercely competitive basketball games played in the Court Building’s top-floor gymnasium, the so-called “highest court in the land.”
Wise, candid, and assured, Out of Order is a rich offering of inspiring stories of one of our country’s most important institutions, from one of our country’s most respected pioneers.


256 pages, ebook

First published March 5, 2013

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About the author

Sandra Day O'Connor

16 books27 followers
Sandra Day O'Connor is an American jurist. She served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1981 until her retirement from the bench in 2006. The first woman to serve on the Supreme Court, she served as a crucial swing vote in some cases due to her case-by-case approach to jurisprudence and her somewhat moderate political views. However, during her time on the Court, she voted with the conservative Chief Justice William Rehnquist more than with any other justice.

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Profile Image for Barbara.
1,394 reviews4,902 followers
April 21, 2023

3.5 stars

For extra pics read the review on my blog: https://reviewsbybarbsaffer.blogspot....

This isn't a scholarly treatise on the Supreme Court, nor is it Sandra Day O'Connor's memoirs about her years as a justice. So If you're looking for a serious book along those lines, this isn't it. However, if you want a quick overview of the court's history, illuminated by interesting (and entertaining) anecdotes, this is the book for you.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

To be fair, O'Connor does briefly mention a few groundbreaking historical cases, such as Marbury vs. Madison (1803) - which was the first ruling to declare a law unconstitutional; Plessy vs. Ferguson (1896) - which legalized 'separate but equal' facilities for blacks and whites; and Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) - which reversed Plessy by declaring that segregation in public schools is illegal. These cases are just mentioned in passing, however, and not the focus of the narrative.

The book is divided into chapters, each of which addresses a different aspect of the Supreme Court's history.

- To start with, O'Connor talks about clashes between the President (of the moment) and the Supreme Court.

One of the most telling examples of such a skirmish was the 1937 'judicial reform bill' proposed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR). Also called the 'court packing bill', the law sought to increase the number of Supreme Court Justices from nine to fifteen. Ostensibly, FDR was concerned about the increasing age and heavy work load of the justices. 😴 In reality, however, FDR was angry that the Court gave thumbs down to much of his 'New Deal' legislation, and wanted to appoint justices who'd vote his way. To FDR's dismay, the court packing plan failed to pass.

- The next section of the book discusses the most influential Supreme Court appointees of various past Presidents. This chapter is rather dry (to me), but probably of interest to history buffs.

- Then comes a summary of the changing locations of the Supreme Court. When Sandra Day O'Connor was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice in 1981, the court was at its present Washington, DC location - a majestic building with marble stairs and bronze doors. However, it took 145 years to get there.

Supreme Court Building

The first Supreme Court sessions, in 1790, were held in the Merchants Exchange Building in New York City. The Court then moved to Philadelphia, where it was housed in Independence Hall followed by City Hall.

Independence Hall

Finally, the Court migrated to Washington, DC, and in 1925 Chief Justice William Howard Taft envisaged the current building - which highlights the judiciary's dignity and independence.

- The subsequent section tackles the changing roles and workload of Supreme Court Justices. During the Supreme Court's first century - from 1789 to 1891 - the justices' primary duties were to 'ride circuit' - or serve as roving trial judges in the lower federal courts. The justices traveled thousands of miles each year to preside over trials and appeals.

The reason was 'good old-fashioned yankee frugality.' The country was cash poor and in debt, and Congress saw circuit riding as getting two courts for the price of one.

All the same, circuit riding was a grinding burden on the justices. While they spent six weeks hearing cases for the Supreme Court, they might spend six months riding circuit - on horseback, via carriage, by stagecoach, and later by railroad. The judges were separated from their families, traveled over rough roads in terrible weather, consumed awful food, and sometimes had to share rooms....even beds.....with repellent characters. To add insult to injury, the justices had to pay the entire expenses of their travels out of their salary, which wasn't generous. In 1838, Justice John McKinley's duties on the 9th circuit (Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas) required him to travel 10,000 miles!!

Justice John McKinley

The justices breathed a huge sigh of relief in 1891, when circuit riding ended.


The justice's workload on the actual Supreme Court also changed dramatically over time. During it's first 100 years or so, the Court had to hear ALL submitted appeals, which was manageable at first. However, applications for review - called 'petitions for certiorari' - skyrocketed as the country grew. To ensure an acceptable workload, the Supreme Court had to limit the number of cases it accepted.

On O'Connor's first day on the Supreme Court, she was presented with many hundreds of petitions for certiorari, out of which the justices eventually chose 159 for review. Today, the Court hears about 90 cases a year, selected from 8,000 requests. So, when a litigant threatens 'to take their case to the Supreme Court', they can certainly try......but they probably won't succeed. 😒

- In the next chapter, O'Connor discusses oral advocacy at the Supreme Court. Not any old lawyer can appear before the highest court in the land. To be allowed to argue a case, attorneys must be 'accepted' to practice before the Court.

During the Supreme Court's first two sessions in the 1790s, fewer than 30 lawyers were accepted per year, and - for a long time after that - around five attorneys were added annually. Now there are about 4300 attorney admissions per year, a huge increase - necessary because legal issues have expanded in number and complexity. Of course most of the attorneys never actually stand before the justices, but there are other perks like: preferred admission and seating for courtroom arguments; access to the court's library; and having an impressive document to frame. 👍💕

Oral advocates need to be 'the best of the best' because it's their job to spell out the legal issues involved in their client's case, present the strongest possible argument in their client's favor, and offer ways to resolve disparate issues. Perhaps most daunting of all, the advocates must be prepared to answer justices' questions.....which tend to come hard and fast! 😓

O'Connor notes that Daniel Webster - who practiced before the Supreme Court from 1812 to 1852 - is considered one of the most brillliant oral advocates in history. With his golden tongue, knowledge of the law, and literary allusions, Webster could speak for hours - and in a case involving Dartmouth College (his alma mater), Webster actually brought himself to tears when he said: "Sir, you may destroy this little institution; it is weak, it is in your hands! I know it is one of the lesser lights in the literary horizon of our country. You may put it out! But if you do so, you must carry through your work! You must extinguish, one after another, all those great lights of science which for more than a century have thrown their radiance over our land! It is, Sir, as I have said, a small college. And yet there are those who love it!" 😥 Webster won the case.

Oral advocacy has changed a lot since Webster's day. During the first half-century of the Supreme Court, oral arguments could take hours, even days - with all manner of flamboyance, dramatics, and flourishes. In fact, oral arguments were considered a form of entertainment, and attracted visitors of all stripes....especially women.

As the number of cases increased, however, the time allotted to oral arguments decreased. In 1848, oral arguments were limited to two hours per side; in 1925, they were reduced to one hour per side; and in 1970, to 30 minutes per side.....which continues to this day.

The length of briefs submitted to the Supreme Court also changed over the years. In the beginning, there was no page limit, and attorneys sometimes submitted 'books', crammed with every single thing they could think of. Today, petitions for certiorari can't exceed 9,000 words and briefs in cases scheduled for oral argument can't be longer than 15,000 words. So lawyers have to marshall their best arguments prior to appearing before the Court, focusing attention on the most important issues.

- Like any institution, the Court has developed customs and traditions over the years. O'Connor notes that some conventions shape the manner in which the Court does its work. For instance, when the justices meet privately to discuss a case, they speak and vote in order of seniority. And, at one time or another, all the justices are asked to write opinions for a case.

On the lighter side, some customs foster good relations among the justices. For example, after oral arguments the justices lunch together, during which time work is not to be discussed. And the most junior justice has the responsibility for choosing food for the Supreme Court’s cafeteria. So Justice Elena Kagan added frozen yogurt and pretzels to the menu. 🍦🥨

- The subsequent section is about the oath of office. All federal employees - including Supreme Court Justices - must take an oath of office - swearing to support and defend the Constitution. In fact, justices take two oaths of office (which can be combined). This segment of the book describes where and when various justices took their oaths, and who administered them.....usually a Chief Justice or the President. I found this chapter a bit dull, but some readers might like it.

- To liven things up the next topic is humor on the bench. The serious environment of the Court is sometimes spiced up by the occasional joke. Like everyone else, the justices like a good laugh....and the laughs sometimes take place in the courtroom.

In 2005, a law professor studied transcripts of 75 oral arguments from the October, 2004 term of the Supreme Court. The professor then set about calculating the number of 'laughter episodes' generated by each justice during oral presentations. Justice Antonin Scalia won by a landsllide, with 77 laughter episodes 😁; Justice Stephen Breyer came in a distant second with 45 bouts of laughter 😃; and Sandra Day O'Connor - who's apparently not too funny - was in seventh place 🙂.

Speaking about Scalia, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg said he was sometimes SO FUNNY that she had to pinch herself to keep from laughing out loud in the courtroom.

One source of giggles occurs when oral advocates mix up the justices. Justice David Souter was called by the wrong name on several occasions, and once was even called Justice Ginsberg. He responded with a deadpan, "You're very flattering."

Justice David Souter

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg

- Towards the end of the book O'Connor discusses some of the most memorable Supreme Court justices in history - one of the finest being Oliver Wendell Holmes, and the absolute worst being James McReynolds.

Since villains are sometimes more colorful than heroes, I'll summarize O'Connor's thoughts about McReynolds.

McReynolds (who served on the Court from 1914 to 1941) "was an astonishingly mean and bigoted character." Born in Kentucky in 1862, McReynolds was a southern gentleman of the old school, raised with fundamental values. He considered anyone who disagreed with him to be stupid or evil, and was quick to turn an argument into a fight. As a justice McReynolds was abrasive, and would write "this makes me sick' on his colleagues' circulating opinions. He voted down New Deal legislation, and referred to FDR as “that crippled son-of-a-bitch in the White House.”

McReynolds was an outspoken anti-semite, and behaved badly towards Justice Louis Brandeis and Justice Benjamin Cardozo, both of whom were Jewish. In fact McReynolds conspicuously read a newspaper during Cardozo's swearing in ceremony. McReynolds was also an unabashed racist, and treated his black employees with condescension, using one as a 'bird-dog' - who sloshed through water to retrieve game - on hunting trips.

When McReynolds died, none of his fellow justices attended the funeral.

Justice James McReynolds

- O'Connor concludes the book with Supreme Court 'firsts.' I'll just give a few examples.
◻ The first Chief Justice was John Jay (1789)
◻ The first Catholic justice was Roger Taney (1836).
◻ The first woman to practice before the Supreme Court (as an oral advocate) was Belva Lockwood (1879).
◻ The first Jewish justice was Louis Brandeis. (1916)
◻ The first African-American law clerk was William T. Coleman, Jr. (1948)
◻ The first professional football player to become a justice was Byron White (1962).
◻ The first African-American justice was Thurgood Marshall (1967).
◻ The first woman justice was Sandra Day O'Connor (1981).


O'Connor doesn't dish any dirt in this book, and doesn't have a cross word for any of her fellow justices. She also has no comment about controversial decisions made during her tenure on the Court - like handing the presidency to George W. Bush. Maybe she'll address more controversial topics in another volume.

I enjoyed the book, which gave me a glimmer of optimism during these dark days (for me). Supreme Court justices come and go, but democracy (seemingly) carries on. During an interview for NPR, O'Connor said: "I thought the justices did a good job of discussing the issues in a decent way in which everyone had the opportunity to express their views and that they would be fairly considered by everyone. I thought we had a pretty good system going."

I'd recommend the book to readers interested in the Supreme Court.
Profile Image for Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship.
1,162 reviews1,261 followers
August 30, 2015
I hardly ever read books by people who are primarily known for something other than writing them, and this is a good example of why not.

The blurb makes this book sound fascinating, at least, if you have any interest in the Supreme Court. "With unparalleled insight and her unique perspective as a history-making figure, Justice O'Connor takes us on a personal exploration.... We get a rare glimpse into the Supreme Court's inner workings: how cases are chosen for hearing; the personal relationships that exist among the Justices; and the customs and traditions, both public and private, that bind one generation of jurists to the next...." Unfortunately, that's just the publishers' wishful thinking; barely a word of what I just quoted is true. Well, except for the public traditions: the book spends a good 11 pages on oath-taking. But "candid" it is decidedly not.

Essentially, Out of Order is a brief (165 pages of text, followed by the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and references) and basic introduction to the U.S. Supreme Court. Its chapters covers topics such as famous clashes between the Court and the presidents; the various buildings in which the Court has been housed; the early tradition of circuit-riding; and biographical sketches of a few famous justices.

Justice O'Connor handily avoids the opportunity to include personal insights, stories or opinions. For instance, the chapter on judicial appointments simply lists presidents, their appointees, and what the people in question are best-known for, without a hint of an opinion on the appointment process or discussion of the author's own confirmation hearings. And rather than providing insight into how the Court chooses which cases to hear, O'Connor simply quotes the relevant Supreme Court Rule. The deepest this book gets into the inner workings of the Court is the description of the Justices' lunches: everyone sits in the chair occupied by their predecessor, and talk about work is not allowed. What they actually do discuss, or how justices with strongly opposed views relate to each other personally, the book doesn't say. But even the lunchtime "insight" is rare; 99% of this book could as easily have been written by someone with no personal knowledge of the Court.

In fairness, I came to this book knowing a lot about the topic already, and while it's clearly mismarketed, it may not be a bad choice for high school civics classes, or for those who just want to gain some basic knowledge about American public institutions. I certainly learned some new trivia, and some of the anecdotes are enjoyable and piqued my interest in lesser-known historical figures: particularly Justice Field (the story of his judging in the Wild West begins with his pointing a gun at a juror, and gets crazier from there) and Belva Lockwood (who successfully lobbied to have women admitted to practice before the Court.... in 1879).

But even for those with little prior knowledge of the Court, this book would have benefited from either more personal insight, or a greater depth to its treatment of history; as it is, the book focuses on basic information and trivia, provides little explanation or analysis, and fails to elaborate on potentially fascinating stories. While a quick read, it consists mostly of the sort of information available on Wikipedia, and for that reason, sadly, I can't recommend it.
Profile Image for Tony.
415 reviews5 followers
August 26, 2013
I have seen Justice O'Connor speak on several occasions and was extremely impressed each time. She comes across as witty, interesting, and incredibly smart.

I was, therefore, stunned at how dull and boring I found "Out of Order." This volume attempts to describe interesting and amusing episodes from the history of the US Supreme Court and the lives of its Justices. However, had I tried, I do not think I could have selected less interesting vignettes than those chosen by O'Connor. For instance, at one point, she goes through a long list of US Presidents and the Justices appointed by each. Very little description of the Justices is offered in this list; it is generally just a long list that feels like it will never end. In another section of the book, the author goes into great detail regarding the two oaths taken by the Justices upon their taking office. She carefully details who was the first to take the oaths in front of a President, who was the first to take them on TV, and so on. Could there be a more boring topic? Justice O'Connor also repeats some items in multiple chapters as if the reader were not reading a book, but a series of unrelated articles. Most of these anecdotes were not amusing or interesting the first time; to hear them repeatedly is just painful. I truly could not imagine anyone--whether legal scholar or lay person--enjoying this book.
Profile Image for Book Shark.
754 reviews140 followers
May 8, 2018
Out of Order: Stories from the History of the Supreme Court by Sandra Day O'Connor

"Out of Order" is a brief history of anecdotes from the Supreme Court. Sandra Day O'Connor provides a mildly insightful and readable book but overall it's disappointing. The book fails to take advantage of the unique insights that a pioneer of O'Connor's caliber would have had. It's a book that quite frankly could have been written by almost any historian. It was a missed opportunity, it should have provided readers with the historical perspective from the first woman of the Supreme Court. This bland 256-page book is composed of the following chapters: 1. Looming Large, 2. The Call to Serve, 3. A House is not a Home, 4. Humble Beginnings, 5. Itinerant Justice, 6. The Supreme Court's Changing Jurisdiction, 7. Golden Tongues, 8. Customs and Traditions of the Court, 9. Some Laughs on the Bench, 10. Larger-Than-Life-Justices, 11. Gone but not Forgotten, and 12. Supreme Court "Firsts".

1. A straightforward book that is accessible to the masses.
2. An interesting topic in the hands of a former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
3. A brief history of the evolution of the Supreme Court via stories.
4. The book captures many of the historical power struggles between the President and the Supreme Court. " But once fate brought them to their respective positions of authority in 1801, Jefferson and Marshall came to blows in ways that put even today's climate of political acrimony to shame".
5. There are many trivia-worthy nuggets in this book. Can you name the only President that became a Chief Justice? Find out.
6. A brief history of the judicial appointments. The impact of the appointments, the noteworthy opinions and find out the worst opinion in the court's history.
7. The history of the physical "home" of the Supreme Court.
8. The progression of the Supreme Court from its humble beginnings to its current solid foundation.
9. The fascinating history of the riding circuit. "From 1789 to 1891, the Justices were required by law to "ride circuit." They traveled thousands of miles each year to preside over trials and intermediate appeals all over the country. In fact, the Justices spent a lot more time riding circuit than they did hearing cases at the Supreme Court".
10. The evolution of the caseload. The number and control of the cases to be decided. "Taft's extraordinary push was successful. The Judges' Bill passed and, in hindsight, we can see that 1925 marked the birth of the modern Supreme Court".
11. The greatest oral advocates. "In the realm of advocacy, Webster doesn't merely sit in the Pantheon: He is Zeus himself".
12. The customs and traditions of the Court. "ONE OF MY FAVORITE traditions--the judicial handshake--takes place just before oral argument. Before taking the bench, as we say, the Justices gather in the robing room and each Justice shakes hands with and greets every other Justice--thirty-six handshakes in all".
13. The portrait of four Justices who were larger-than-life. Interesting.
14. Laws governing departures.
15. Some interesting tidbits on the "Firsts". "But perhaps the culmination of this trend came with Chief Justice John Roberts. He was the first Supreme Court Justice to take the seat of a Justice for whom he had clerked, Chief Justice William Rehnquist".
16. Includes The Declaration of Independence of the United States of America and the Constitution of the United States.

1. Overall disappointed. The book is not engaging at all. I was hoping to hear O'Connor's voice, get HER opinions, at the very least interesting stories from HER perspective but sadly no.
2. O'Connor should feel free to voice her opinions. She is no longer a working Justice, time to loosen up.
3. Even in the chapter on the "Firsts", O'Connor doesn't really say much about her tenure.
4. If the chapter "Some Laughs on the Bench" is any indication, the Supreme Court lacks humor indeed. At least we learn Scalia has a tendency to laugh a lot.
5. The book really lacks depth.
6. The book doesn't link to notes.
7. The book seems rushed to me.
8. No formal bibliography.
9. There are much better books about the Supreme Court.

In summary, a mixed bag. There are some interesting anecdotes and amusing stories but overall I was disappointed. Sandra Day O'Connor failed to open up to the readers. She doesn't provide her voice, her opinions, her perspective. Such a missed opportunity to engage the readers with her unique experiences as the first woman of the Supreme Court. I was honestly hoping for more. Pick a copy from the library but not worthy of a purchase.

Further suggestions: "My Beloved World" by Sonia Sotomayor, "The Oath: The Obama White House and The Supreme Court" and "The Nine" by Jeffrey Toobin, "Making Our Democracy Work: A Judge's View" by Stephen Breyer, "Matter of Interpretation : Federal Courts and the Law" by Antonin Scalia, "The U.S. Supreme Court: A Very Short Introduction" by Linda Greenhouse, "Five Chiefs: A Supreme Court Memoir" by John Paul Stevens, and "The Brethren" by Bob Woodward.
Profile Image for Jim B.
824 reviews38 followers
February 17, 2016
Retired Supreme Court Justice O'Connor read her own book in her distinctive voice. Filled with anecdotes and history of our nation's highest court, the book contained a treasure-trove of interesting information on the development of our American judiciary system, mostly of the Supreme Court itself.

I wish that there was some way to communicate to the currently divided American people the spirit of the Supreme Court, where nine Americans with deeply different beliefs about the law (think of that! Not a uniform court of agreement.) cultivate their friendship and collegial approach to their work. I was reading this book when Supreme Court Justice Scalia suddenly died. O'Connor records in her book how this conservative justice was close to his opposites on the court, Justice Ginsberg, for example. Where the media loved to dwell on his pointed writing in his opinions, O'Connor reported how Scalia was known inside the court for his humor. One newspaper declared him the funniest justice.

The court hasn't always been a model of harmony, however. Sandra Day O'Connor reported that one justice was so difficult to get along with that when he died (26 years on the court) none of his colleagues on the Supreme Court attended his funeral.

As interesting as the subject matter of the book is, each chapter felt like a unit that Justice O'Conner perhaps prepared for a separate presentation, rather than part of a book. A good editor would have smoothed out the repetitions of the same facts and sometimes even the same phrases in many chapters. It is one reason I only gave the book 3 stars, despite its interesting subject matter.

The book concludes with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution with the Amendments. This was interesting to listen to, rather than skim over, as I would have in a printed form.
Profile Image for Brooke Evans.
169 reviews34 followers
April 29, 2018
I enjoyed this book. It didn't have quite the readability that I've come to expect from my non-fiction books and memoirs, which is the primary reason for dropping my rating. The stories were good and the organization was some of the best I've ever seen, but it felt very proper a lot of the time and was hard to immerse myself in - it read more textbook-y than some books of its genre. That said, it was pretty awesome to read these humanizing stories of people who and events that stand out in the Supreme Court's history (and fun to hear about things that still happen, like the no-shop-talk lunch routine while the Court is in session.) It's staggering sometimes to think about how our current setup wasn't inevitable in any sense - it was created and prioritized and grown, to different degrees by different people - and that really increases my gratitude for what we have today. It also increases my sense of responsibility to do well with my own stewardship, in whatever I have control over in my life. Small things can become great, but not without hard work and smart choices. It was especially fantastic to hear these stories from the first female Supreme Court justice.
Profile Image for Nate.
155 reviews16 followers
August 22, 2016
A supreme court justice wrote this? There's no way. There is no voice, and very little, if any, flow in the writing.

I think this book is a collage of several middle school student book reports about the Supreme Court and a few of the justices; and for that, they certainly deserve an A for this picture filled, lightly researched, generously spaced book that offers a font size that requires no reading glasses—how thoughtful they were.

As an introduction to the supreme court, are there better pieces of writing out there? Absolutely, but come on, they're in 8th grade, so what if it only makes light touches on a few aspects of the supreme court and sprinkles in the most commonly known history about it. So bravo 8th graders, keep up the good work, but beware, because this bullet point style of writing just won't fly in high school.
Profile Image for Moonkiszt.
2,166 reviews211 followers
January 20, 2022
Sandra Day O'Connor marched forward and took her seat, she's the first woman to sit on that high seat in this country. A pioneer, a gate crasher, and a hero. I was so over the moon when I heard we had finally done it. . . .I was a young mother at the time and finally felt I had witnessed something historic. Looking back, I've been witnessing a lot of historical, landmarking moments, but it just didn't register at the time. A woman on the Supreme Court made me feel proud of our country for one of the first times as an accountable, responsible citizen. Not just someone's underage kid, who had no skin in any game.

This was an enjoyable read - my longest haul workwise has been in the legal services, and so have a bottom-view looking up at courts, laws, and the millions of Esquires who can't for the life of them run a copier without help. . . yeah. Support Staff. Legal Assistants. File Clerks. IT. HR. Paralegals. Legal Secretaries (that old dinosaur). And all those vendors, court reporters, experts on everything, . . . anyway. I digress.

The history Justice O'Connor shares had me very engaged and interested. The stories, old and new kept my attention and thoughts firing off, with comparisons of how it must be in those offices, in those meetings where the legislative asphalt of our laws is laid. . . . .amazing on so many levels. I didn't read this because of the writing or the promise of juicy plot points. I read it because her perspective and wisdom was hard-won and my respect earned.
Profile Image for Kimba Tichenor.
Author 1 book115 followers
December 8, 2018
The book is neither a memoir of the author's time on the Supreme Court nor a history of the Supreme Court, rather to use her words, it is a collection of "stories of the Court and the Justices that come from the ‘out of order’ moments, i.e. the moments between the "bang of the gavels" that are seldom seen by the general public that shed light on the changing role of the Supreme Court in US history.

The above description by the author may give the reader the impression that the author plans to share an intimate, behind-the-scenes account of life as a Supreme Court justice through the centuries. Unfortunately, this expectation is rarely fulfilled. For example, in the chapter on the life of justices have leaving the court, she first recounts the history of regulations governing the retirement of justices and then offers a long lists of jobs held by former justices as well as the charitable causes that they championed in retirement. This enumeration of former justices' post-court resumes makes for very dry reading to say the least! This is not to say that one does not learn some interesting details about the history of the Supreme Court, such as how early justices were saddled with the burdens of "riding the court circuit" under primitive traveling conditions, leading many judges to leave the court in favor of less strenuous and better compensated state court positions. And perhaps for some, these tidbits of information presented without analysis will be enough to hold their interest. The author also occasionally provides brief glimpses of the personalities of the justices, such as when she describes the reaction of Justice William O. Douglas to having his camping trip interrupted by two lawyers seeking an injunction. The two lawyers, knowing that Douglas was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, had gone to the trouble to track down Douglas on a remote hiking trail in the hopes that he would rule in favor of their client, a draft dodger. What they did not realize, according to Sandra Day O'Connor, was that as much as Douglas hated Nixon and the Vietnam War, he hated even more having his vacation interrupted. he told the lawyers to come back the next day for his decision. When they returned to the trail, they found a note under a rock on which two words were written: "Motion denied." But sadly, these moments of insight into the court's history and personality are few and far between -- lost amid countless pages of dry recitation of facts without analysis and without any sense of the author's personality.

Profile Image for Laura.
1,237 reviews119 followers
September 22, 2013
This book is accurately described by its subtitle. It mostly contains quirky little stories of justices being characters. It did get up my nose almost immediately. Justice O’Connor quotes with approval Justice Harlan’s famous line from his scathing dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson, dissenting from the court’s approval of separate but equal. “Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law.” (30-31). John Carlson quoted that at my law school campaigning for Initiative 200. All due praise to Justice Harlan for dissenting from that heartbreaking opinion.

But Justice Harlan goes on to say “The white race deems itself to be the dominant race in this country. And so it is in prestige, in achievements, in education, in wealth and in power. So, I doubt not, it will continue to be for all time if it remains true to its great heritage and holds fast to the principles of constitutional liberty.” 163 U. S. 537, 559 (1896). And like I said to Carlson then after I quoted the passage (to some intense looks from some of my African American classmates, but hey, I had the book right there) and like I would say to Justice Roberts now, had I the chance – the problem with the “colorblind constitution” is that it ignores history. It ignores how the legally enshrined caste system of the past still echoes through us now.

So that put me in a bad mood. Still. Learned some good things from this book, viz:

*The first Court Reporter, Alexander James Dallas, just showed up one day in 1791 and appointed himself to the job. (55). Gives me a lot more sympathy for the line in Eire that there is no such thing as United States common law!

*Since 1972, each newly appointed justice is allowed to sit, briefly, in Chief Justice John Marshall’s chair. (109). Swoon.

*When Prince Philip met Justice Marshall in 1963, he asked Marshall “’And what do you do?’ Justice Marshall responded that he was a lawyer. Prince Philip mumbled, ‘Hmph,’ which the Justice took as mild disapproval. Justice Marshall immediately responded, ‘Would you like to know what I think of princes?” at that witty reply, Prince Philip smiled broadly and said, ‘Not at all. Let’s go have a drink.’” (121)

*Justice William O. Douglas hired the first woman law clerk at the United States Supreme Court in 1944. After being told by his usual sources that they had no qualified candidates, “Justice Douglas wrote back to one of them and asked if they also meant that they had no qualified women for the position. It turned out that they did, but apparently it had not occurred to them to recommend one.” (157-58). My old boss Justice Tom Chambers took a writ seeking relief for wrongfully disenfranchised farm workers to Justice Douglas’s Yakima house back in the late 1960s. I’m glad to know more good things about him.

Not a deep book. Doesn’t deserve the title. But had some good tidbits.
Profile Image for Dick Reynolds.
Author 15 books37 followers
March 3, 2014
I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway.

Justice O’Connor gives us a top level view of the Supreme Court beginning with its establishment in the Constitution. The members of the court came when John Adams, at the end of his presidency, established vacancies for Thomas Jefferson to fill. The first justices didn’t have much to do in those days and didn’t spend much time at home. They had to “ride circuit” and travel to courts in order to hear cases, with travel expenses coming out of their own pockets. To citizens at those courts, the justices were the only “faces” of the federal government since they rarely saw the President or members of Congress.
Mrs. O’Connor weaves an interesting story of the various justices who populated our highest federal court over the years and the presidents who appointed them. In all, 112 justices were confirmed but 27 nominees failed. The court’s first sessions were held in New York, then Philadelphia, and finally Washington, D.C. Today’s magnificent building was established in 1935 and is located next to the Capitol and Library of Congress.
Justice O’Connor includes a chapter near the end describing Famous Firsts, one of which is her elevation to the court as the first woman, FWOTSC. (Washington loves acronyms, she points out.) She served twenty-five years before retiring in 2006 to care for her sick husband. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are included as appendices to this book and I took time to read them again. Anyone who loves our country cannot help to be stirred when reading these historic documents.
There are several minor negatives about this book. The language is subdued and lackluster but a style which one would expect from an attorney and justice who’s served on our highest court. Another discrepancy is the lack of any personal opinions or revelations by Justice O’Connor on the experiences she herself had on the court. It’s been said that she played an important role in the court’s decision to resolve the election dispute between Al Gore and George W. Bush; would it be inappropriate to now write about her activity in that decision? And finally, the title is confusing. Is the Supreme Court out of order? Or more likely, from out of order comes justice. You decide.
143 reviews2 followers
April 18, 2013
This book provides a cursory look into the history of the Supreme Court through stories of the institution and its justices, both famous and infamous. It is light on legal details and major cases that have touched history (i.e. Brown v. Board and its predecessors) are mentioned only briefly. This is not a heavy legal volume and some readers will find the book more digestible for it.

Sandra Day O'Connor clearly adores the institution she worked for and has great esteem for her former colleagues. She also clearly wants to avoid making any comments that could be misinterpreted or debated, therefore, the book falls a little flat for me. Although I enjoyed learning new facts about the Supreme Court (i.e. circuit riding, how we got to certiorari today), it read more like an adoring letter to the Court and Justices than an in depth look at the role and interactions of the Supreme Court in this modern age. I did not expect it to be a titillating expose, but just a deeper look into the court and its personnel (i.e. less about circuit riding, more about the female justices, perhaps).

I would recommend this book to anyone who does not have a legal background or has a limited legal background and is curious about the workings of the highest court in our country.
Profile Image for Amy.
2,629 reviews416 followers
November 25, 2020
Did you know Sandra Day O'Connor was on the Supreme Court? Oh don't worry. She'll only remind you of it every other sentence.

This book is a collection of random facts about the U.S. Supreme Court and some of the more notable justices over the years. It is an oddly packaged selection, not necessarily following any theme outside of the court, and widely interspersed with O'Connor's impressions or experiences. If she turned it more memoir, this might actually have been interesting, but her perspectives rarely amount to more than, "And oh yeah, I was the first woman on the court!"

The book's tone is oddly condescending, though I will say it might just have been the author's reading of the audio book. It felt like something aimed more at children, though not packaged for them. But the tone is definitely patronizing.

Sandra Day O'Connor is a remarkable woman who made history and I honestly think her take on history could have really added to the tales of the Supreme Court. But unless you really know nothing about SCOTUS and want some of the basic facts and legends, I'd look elsewhere for a history.

Profile Image for Dan.
32 reviews14 followers
August 22, 2016
Sadly, this book fell pretty far short of my expectations. The Supreme Court is an institution with a lot of tradition without much visibility, relatively speaking, into its inner workings, so given the title and the author I was expecting a unique personal perspective of what it was like to see the Court from the inside. Additionally I figured this would be a story of the challenges and rewards of being the first woman to serve in that role. Instead it is mostly a brief summary of how the Court works and it's history. This is worth something on it's own, certainly but it is written at a level appropriate for high school freshmen and not even very well at that. I've never ready any of O'Connor's opinions but I assume they must have been of a higher caliber than this. The latter portion of the book is dedicated to some humorous anecdotes and reminiscences, but they felt half-hearted and weren't very engaging. Given how great this book could have been, I was left pretty disappointed and can't see myself recommending it to anyone.
Profile Image for John Creighton.
38 reviews1 follower
October 27, 2022
Justice O'Connor's book will disappoint if you are looking for a tell-all about goings on during her tenure on the Supreme Court. But for history and legal geeks it is a fascinating look at the history of the court going back to its very first days when justices heard very few cases as sitting justices on the Supreme Court and were made to "ride circuit" around a the country to hear cases as appellate judges, often having to travel treacherous, poorly developed routes on horseback.
Profile Image for Joe Stufflebeam.
104 reviews1 follower
December 9, 2015
I was expecting to get some real insight into the court and the process that they go through on cases and how that has evolved over time. This book reads like a Wikipedia page with very shallow, almost bulleted information. The only well written portion of the book is the recital of the Declaration of Independence at the end.
Profile Image for Correen.
1,120 reviews
November 8, 2015

Delightful book to hear. I loved her stories of her years on the court. They were short, to the point, and fascinating. Some of the antics she found funny, however, I found mean-spirited.
Profile Image for Renee.
212 reviews1 follower
January 27, 2016
It was a good book but it could have been better with more details.
Profile Image for Jami.
1,705 reviews7 followers
December 25, 2022
Although many readers didn’t like this, I think they were expecting more of a tell-all about personalities. This was a history of the Supreme Court, including why certain things are done the way they were. This was an interesting and short book and she kept out her personal ideology. I learned some things, including an anti-Semite and racist on the court!
Profile Image for Jim.
2,807 reviews57 followers
November 4, 2019
A nice overview of the Supreme Court and its history, as well as anecdotes and biographies of stellar individuals who have served on the bench. Aimed at a general reading audience, and suffers perhaps a tad from repetitiveness, but overall I thought it was a good refresher and I learned a few new things. Boy do I wish we had a few like her still on the court.
Profile Image for Jim.
427 reviews3 followers
March 26, 2013
“I wanted to write about aspects of the Court’s rich heritage that interested and inspired me. Hencethis book. Only when we reflect on the Court’s journey as a whole can we truly appreciate the remarkable feat of our Founding Fathers and the remarkable accomplishments of our thriving federal judiciary.” From the Introduction

Written in a conversational style, retired Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Sandra Day O’ Connor, has provided us with a short and interesting history of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) highlighting the history of the Court, the early requirements of “circuit riding” which took the Justices away from their families and work for long periods of time, as well as snapshots of some of the men (especially prior to her ascension to the Court in 1981) who sat on the bench since its inception in 1791, and some interesting developments in the location of the court as well as its operational development over the course of its history.

As I read, two (among many others) fascinating and interesting facts about the court I did not know prior to reading this book emerged, illustrating the unique contribution of this book to an understanding of SCOTUS. First, from its inception in 1789 until the Evarts Act in 1891 which created the three-tier system of federal courts, all of the Justices who sat on the bench were required to circuit ride across the US to hear cases. The result, by the time of the Evarts Act, was a three year backlog of work not to mention the physically taxing demands of travel (especially in the early days of the Court) on the Justices. Only after a century of existence were the Justices able to focus on their work in Washington. Even now however, there remains Justice O’Connor notes, a desire to see the court get out of Washington and, quoting Yale Law Professor Akhil Amar “sit with fellow federal judges elsewhere in the country in order to make them more attentive to state law and different perspectives in this vast country of ours.”

The second was the transition from being required of Congress to have “a large mandatory docket” to the now practice of “certiorari” which allows the Court to select those cases it will choose to review. The Evarts Act (mentioned above) was the first step, according to O’Connor to help alleviate the overload, but it was not until 1925 and the Judiciary Act of 1925 that the Court was able to establish a more discretionary docket.

I liked this book because Justice O’Connor provides, in my opinion, a varied and interesting look at this vital American institution. This brief book is treasure trove of stories and insights of the US Supreme Court that a reader who is interested in the history of court itself will find fascinating. If you are looking for a more in-depth of the Court from a legal and constitutional perspective this is not the book for you. However, if you are interested in the development of the Court from its inception during the administration of George Washington, this is a wonderful book to read.

I rate this book a ‘great’ read!

Note: I received an uncorrected proof of this book via the Amazon Vine Program in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.
Profile Image for James Korsmo.
463 reviews19 followers
March 18, 2013
In this book, Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court, sets out to tell about the "transformations" over the history of the court through snapshots of a number of its justices and its key moments. And in one sense, this is well accomplished. The book is full of brief anecdotes about people who have served on the court or of key issues that arose. But the book is surprisingly light on legal depth, with only brief descriptions of the characteristics or issues of particular cases or only brief impressions of the philosophies or key decisions of the justices she discusses. This does make for a pleasant read, as the reader is able to meet quite a few of the key characters throughout the history of the court, from John Jay to Oliver Wendell Holmes. But she is extremely tight lipped about the current justices. About the only anecdote about her contemporaries is that Rehnquist enjoyed music and show tunes and would occasionally include a reference to a song in some of his judicial correspondence. Likewise, aside from a mention of lunches in the judicial dining room and also some information about some of the duties of the most junior justice (such as sitting on the cafeteria committee), there isn't much of a sense for what happens behind the scenes. It is a readable basic primer on Supreme Court history, focused on the people and the operations of the court more than the content of the cases and decisions. Add to that its pleasantness. But in all I was disappointed that there wasn't more insight into the machinations behind the scenes or more insight based on her obviously significant understanding of and perspective on Constitutional law. Overall, the book isn't bad, but you need to recognize that it is more about the court as institutions and the people behind them than about the law. It is definitely suited for nonspecialists.
Profile Image for Ted Lehmann.
228 reviews16 followers
March 5, 2013
Well written history can be more gripping than a good novel, help the reader develop deeper insights into our world, and develop greater understandings about the people involved. The Supreme Court of the United States is perhaps the most opaque branch of our government, working in secret sessions, writing opinions behind a wall where the only insight into the discussions is seen in the arguments made when a decision is handed down. We don't have much of an understanding of the Justices as people beyond their history, previous writings, and ocaissional speaches to law students and other lawyers and judges. Sandra Day O'Connor's chatty book Out of Order: Stories from the History of the Supreme Court does little to address these issues and thus becomes a minor contribution to the literature of the Supreme Court. By contrast, Jeffrey Toobin's The Nine, written with careful journalistic insight, and to which Justice O'Connor herself was reputed to have been one of the major sources, casts light on the politics and workings of the Court in exciting and useful ways helping us to see more deeply into a mostly hidden world. My 2007 review of The Nine can be found here.....

Read the rest of my review here: http://tedlehmann.blogspot.com/2013/0...
Profile Image for Joanie.
489 reviews7 followers
May 31, 2015
I really wanted to like this book. Admittedly, I have read many books about the U.S. Supreme Court prior to this one, but every book I have read prior to this one has taught me new things or offered new perspectives. Sadly, as I forced myself to finish this book, I began to think that Sandra Day O'Connor merely cranked out a book to help pay for her husband's Alzheimer's care. How else can one explain this book? I have read many of her Supreme Court opinions over the years, and, while they are not brilliant, they would indicate she is capable of much better than what she put forth in this book. If you want to read a chatty, informative and well-written book about the Court, I would suggest "The Supreme Court" by William Rehnquist. While I don't necessary subscribe to Rehnquist's views, his book is excellent and easy to read.

If you do read this book, the chapter entitled "Some Laughs on the Bench" does offer some humorous stories. In her chapter about "firsts" on the Court, however, her biases are clear. She clearly believes Byron White will be the last football player who will ever make it to the high court. Her certainty in that assessment makes it clear that she thinks virtually anyone who plays football will never be bright enough to even consider pursuing a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. Wow.
74 reviews1 follower
May 28, 2014
Anyone considering reading this book should take its title literally. It is a series of very unconnected stories. There is no coherent history of the Supreme Court, and none is intended. Got it? STORIES. Nor is there much analysis where analysis would have been helpful. Portions are repetitious. I can't remember how many times Justice O'Connor reminded me that the Court didn't have much to do (except ride circuit) in its early years. Along the way, the reader picks up occasional interesting facts (e.g., that there are no legal or constitutional requirements for a federal judge or Supreme Court justice). There are little-known facts that are also of little interest. For example, did you know that the Court's junior justice is in charge of the menu for the Supreme Court cafeteria? Justice O'Connor considers Justice Antonin Scalia among the funniest members of the Court. I consider him among the most outrageous. There is much to read about the Court that is far more important than this book. It's a disappointment.
Profile Image for Laura Beth.
186 reviews5 followers
May 6, 2013
I was disappointed in this book as I felt like it should have and could have been so much better. When I read the reviews saying it was nothing new and info anyone could know, I dismissed it (especially as one was a law student). But they were right. This would be a great book for 7th grade civics or an American History class as supplemental reading. O'Day didn't offer any insights or opinions but maybe she's done with writing opinions. :) She does mention one of her projects is to help middle and high school teachers with civics education and has started an organization to that effect. Perhaps this is where this book is coming from. Judging the book on it's own, and not my expectations due to the author, I learned some fun and interesting facts, especially about the "highest court in the land". I was a nice, additional insight to The Court and it's history. Just pay attention to the title and not to what you're expecting due to the author's previous profession.
10 reviews
May 21, 2013
Out of Order is Supreme Court History Lite. Justice O'Connor was circumspect to a fault in her treatment of Court politics and only slightly more candid in her appraisal of the personal qualities of her colleagues and predecessors (with the notable exception of her brief but sharp skewering of Justice McReynolds). It was disappointing to discover so little about the Supreme Court in a book written by an insider who served on the Court for 25 years.

The book, which is rife with redundancies, reads as a random collection of separate speeches, written for civic or student groups. Still, it wasn't a horrible read, and it might be an easy introduction for readers unfamiliar with the Court and its place in American history.
Profile Image for Ray.
1,053 reviews48 followers
June 3, 2013
Given the subject nature of this book, it wasn't bad. But unless you're about to enter a trivia contest dealing with the U.S. Supreme Court, there's a lot of history and information which just wasn't of much interest to me. For example, I really don't care much about who swore in many of the associate or chief justices, or how many times they took the oath. Also, when O'Connor includes a section of the book trying to show the sense of humor of the justices, the fact that the stories were a little lame doesn't indicate that she can't write well, rather it indicates that these guys she works with just aren't all that funny. But she does give a good history of the Court, from its earliest days through the modern era, and there was a lot of information I hadn't heard before.
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