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The Brethren: Inside the Supreme Court

4.07  ·  Rating Details ·  3,479 Ratings  ·  182 Reviews
The Brethren is the first detailed behind-the-scenes account of the Supreme Court in action.

Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong have pierced its secrecy to give us an unprecedented view of the Chief and Associate Justices—maneuvering, arguing, politicking, compromising, and making decisions that affect every major area of American life.
Paperback, 592 pages
Published July 1st 2005 by Simon & Schuster (first published January 1st 1979)
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Apr 26, 2016 Matt rated it it was amazing
In what is putatively a democracy, with power given by the people, and then shared among three coequal branches of government the United States Supreme Court stands apart. It is distinctly undemocratic: unelected, unaccountable, and secretive. The Supreme Court is where the power is, because it doesn't matter who makes the laws, or enforces the laws; it only matters who interprets the laws.

The Supreme Court has always been a political branch, though it's only fairly recently that we've come to
Sean Sullivan
Aug 05, 2007 Sean Sullivan rated it really liked it

OK, I haven’t read All the Presidents Men, but of all the Woodward books I’ve read, this is by far the best. Woodward can get just about anyone to talk to him, and that is never more clear than in this book. He’s got direct quotes from meetings where there were only five people in attendance. Its amazing.

Some brief thoughts on some of the justices features in this book:
Brennan- rules.
Burger – was a tool
Marshall – was a much better lawyer than he was a justice.
Rehnquist – dick.
Douglas –dick, but
Oct 11, 2007 Shailey rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: law students, lawyers, anyone who <3s the constitution
I read this book in high school, as a high school senior for a Constitutional Law class. I loved it, I loved every minute of it. I found the book very compelling then, and I am sure that I would now. I read the book for a class, but I really got into it, without even knowing the cases that the court heard, who was on the court and the politics behind all of it.

Personally, I think that this book really gave me an inside look into the legal system, and is possibly the reason why I became a lawyer
Apr 17, 2015 Werner rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Readers interested in U.s. history, politics, and law
Whether they realize it or not, the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court have enormous ongoing impact on the lives and prospects of every American. Most Americans who actually follow politics and public affairs have very strong opinions about the court: about what its proper role should be, about what philosophy of jurisprudence should guide its decisions, and about how well the current and past courts have measured up (or failed to) by those standards. I'm certainly no exception; my own perspect ...more
Nov 05, 2013 Ms.pegasus rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone with an opinion about today's Supreme Court; anyone interested in group dynamics
This is a story of what came after the Warren Court – the Burger Court.

The appellation of the Warren Court was not merely a product of journalistic shorthand. The Chief Justice exerts enormous power over Court decisions. If he is in the majority of the initial vote, he assigns opinions. The resulting assignment affects the nuance of legal reasoning which can strengthen or dilute the effects of a decision. The authors note that Warren's successor, Warren Burger, was careful to vote with the major
Jul 18, 2007 David rated it liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
This book was written before Ronald Reagan appointed, in 1981, the first woman to the Supreme Court, so at the time, "the brethren" was an appropriate way to refer to the justices on the Supreme Court. I think it's still the way to which the justices are referred in general, even though more than one woman has now served on the high court. This book is an interesting look at the way the Supreme Court functioned a few decades ago, but perhaps the time has come for Bob Woodward to revisit this top ...more
Dec 06, 2008 Chellie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: in-my-possession
I absolutely loved this book! I had to complete a research paper in high school on the legalization of abortion. The Roe vs. Wade trial. This book was one of the ones that helped immensely. It was a great, interesting read through out the court cases and Justices through the years and terms of each one!
Jul 05, 2016 Trevor rated it really liked it
Shelves: 1979
I have a hard time believing that Chief Justice Burger was really as intellectually challenged as he is portrayed here. I also have more respect for Thurgood Marshall than to believe that he just loafed along his days on the Court. Still, this book was a fascinating look at the Supreme Court both as a bit of history and as a good look at how the Court is still run.
Woodward organizes this book chronologically. It basically begins when Chief Justice Burger takes over from Chief Justice Earl Warre
Jun 23, 2009 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
This was a fascinating look inside the Supreme Court and it reads practically like a novel. It was scary learning what motivates a lot of the decision-making on the court - at the end of the day these are just nine normal people deciding such important issues that affect so many. I would have liked to learn more about Blackmun and I felt that Woodward's portrayal of him was very different than his portrayal in "Becoming Justice Blackmun." You might like this book more if you are a liberal, becau ...more
Steven Peterson
Aug 27, 2010 Steven Peterson rated it really liked it
When this book came out, my first response was "Wow." How did Woodward get all of these inside stories? But that's my normal response to many of his books. Why do people open up so much to him? I once used this as a textbook in a course on Law and Politics, since it gives an "inside view" of the Supreme Court. Questions have been raised about this work, but--in thne end--a good read and a work that gets one to thinking about the Court.
Sara Alsup
Dec 31, 2008 Sara Alsup rated it it was amazing
I found Woodward's prose to make this a compelling and accessible volume on the Court. My intellectual curiousity was piqued by some of the cases discussed.
Jun 26, 2012 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have again gone back in time to a book that has ties to the Nixon years, co-written by a pair of Washington Post reporters with ties to Nixon's fall. The Brethren -- written by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong -- looks at the U.S. Supreme Court during a time where justice selection seemed to be as political as the rest of the Government. From 1969 -- the year Nixon selected Warren Burger as Chief Justice -- through 1975, Woodward and Armstrong wrote about the life and times of the Court, provi ...more
Mar 24, 2009 Suzanne rated it did not like it
I had really looked forward to this book based on the reviews it has received. It was very disappointing for me, someone with no formal background knowledge of Law and the Constitution. The author makes assumptions that the reader will know what a "cert" is, what defines a "conference" , what the role of the Law Clerk is, and how cases ultimately end up at the Court. It would have taken very little effort for Woodward to have defined things more clearly for the general audience if his intention ...more
Dec 26, 2016 Sam rated it really liked it
Entertaining and enlightening for those interested in the Supreme Court, though gossipy and sometimes harsher and more judgmental than might be warranted. Overall very useful to understanding the Burger Court.
Sep 05, 2010 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I generally do not like to spend my free time reading books about the law. I picked this book up at my Dad's house during a recent trip. Due to the length of the book and its subject, I thought the odds were long that I would get very far before putting it down and picking up some fiction.

I enjoyed this book more than anything I've read in a longtime. Now more than 30 years old, what was originally current affairs when it was published can be viewed looking back with some historical perspective
Jean Poulos
Apr 26, 2014 Jean Poulos rated it did not like it
I did not learn much from this book that I had not already discovered in reading some of the biographies of Supreme Court Justices. Albeit, the language used in this book was to imply more discord, and dysfunction than there apparently was. The book covers the 1969 to 1975 terms. Woodward recounts isolated details of the resolution of a number of cases, the authors purport to expose the “decision making” of an institution which has managed to “escape public scrutiny.” The book is packaged as a s ...more
Jan 26, 2008 Lily rated it really liked it
I found this book to be deeply entertaining and revealing. The interviews given in this book were inspired by the justices' and clerks' outrage at the Chief Justice's running of the Court. Justice Stewart, who was particularly disgusted, provided Woodward with extended, in-depth interviews.

I especially love the picture on the cover - a towering picture of the Supreme Court, looking almost holy. Then, while reading the book you realize that these justices aren't legal scholars set away from soci
Dec 26, 2012 Scott rated it it was ok
Depth: B
Style: C
Content: B
Research: A
Historical Impact: D

Woodward and Armstrong write a tale of 7 years and 14 Supreme Court judges. To actually write the book, and to access dozens of law clerks and judges, and to amass huge documentation is in itself the feat of the book. The Supreme Court has been the most sheltered of all public institutions with only trifles of coverage before. The book does portray the quirks of the judges, the key decisions of each year, the infighting and the peculiariti
Jan 02, 2008 Brandon rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who cares about the SCOTUS
A shocking, detailed behind-the-scenes account of the Burger court thru 1975.

Warren Burger was an inept, stupid, highly political hack of a Chief Justice. And a racist, sexist, bigot.

Thurgood Marshall was lazy and delegated his work to the point of dereliction.

William Brennan was awesome.

Ditto William Douglas, until he became senile and crazy.

Rehnquist was a really nice guy who lied a lot to get the results he wanted. It is chilling that in this book he is the far right, while at the time of his
Sep 28, 2008 Kim rated it liked it
This was one of the few difficult books that I forced myself to read but I was curious about the supreme justices and our judicial system so I read it. I don't remember much of it except how the clerks would write most of the legal documents for the justices. The justices read briefs, made decisions, and hands off the rest of the work to their very faithful clerks. These poor clerks would toil long hours to appease their bosses.

Hmm...I don't remember what year I read this book but it was before
Frank Stein
Mar 10, 2009 Frank Stein rated it it was amazing

Amazing. I had no idea Warren Burger was such an insufferable dick. I mean I heard bad things but I had NO IDEA. Apparently the whole reason this book got writ was because so many of the other justices were peeved at Burger and they had to vent in long, extended interviews.

The book focuses too much on Watergate (perhaps justifiably for Woodward) and the extremely detailed background on some cases (the multiple memos, amendments,drafts, and meetings behind them), but one leaves the book with a re
Nikki Golden
May 25, 2007 Nikki Golden rated it it was amazing
This book signifies everything I hate about Bob Woodward. He writes as if he was sitting in the chambers while the judges discuss these cases, quoting verbatim. However, NO ONE is allowed inside the chambers, so why not just say that and call it a fictionalized account of the real supreme court or something? Because then he would lose his cache as a journalist. But a true journalist doesn't withhold stories from the newspaper he's managing editor of so that he could write a best seller.

That bein
Tom  Holt
Feb 13, 2008 Tom Holt rated it really liked it
This is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the dynamics of the Burger court. Woodward obviously relied on numerous clerks (and perhaps some justices) to get the inside scoop on the interpersonal dynamics of the nation's highest judges at a critical time in jurisprudential history. The Chief himself is portrayed as vain, pretentious, and ungifted, while William Brennan is shown as the somewhat cynical swing player. The degredation of the relationship between the "Minnesota Twins" (Bla ...more
Jan 10, 2009 Jeff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: supreme-court, law
The best of Woodward's many books. The Brethren was the first the (now) many "Inside the Supreme Court" books.

The cliff-notes version: Chief Justice Burger is a hack. Justice Brennan is a great hero for all mankind. Justice Marshall is lazy and lets his clerks do all of his work. And Justice Stewart is the everyman justice (with a 125 IQ, natch) with his finger on the pulse of the American zeitgeist. The rest of the justices barely figure.

Much of this is probably true (who knows?), but Woodward
Oliver Bateman
Sep 20, 2010 Oliver Bateman rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
An interesting, gossipy account of the goings-on at the Supreme Court during one of the most critical phases in its history. The book has aged pretty well, and it still leaves readers with absolute contempt for Warren Burger. Potter Stewart, who apparently collaborated with the authors, doesn't come off looking much better. William Rehnquist, (pre-stroke) William O. Douglas, J-P Stevens, Lewis Powell, and the vastly underrated Byron "Whizzer" White are all portrayed as competent jurists, with Wi ...more
Jan 12, 2015 Josh rated it it was amazing
This was a WOW book for me.

Woodward and Armstrong take their readers inside the halls of power and give us access to history being created as if we are there with them in real time. The thoroughness of the research and the intensity of the Justices' personality make for educational and entertaining reading. This is definitely only a book for the politically-engaged (read: incredibly nerdy) reader, but it's a remarkable piece of writing and reporting.
Mar 06, 2009 Dave rated it really liked it
Study of how our Supreme Court works. Hard to believe that it is really as depicted, with the Justice's clerks in control and Chief Justice Burger a total idiot. But maybe .... Much of the book chronicles events in the Nixon era, and if you are in your 50's this book explains alot of what went on and why. Very good.
Feb 24, 2016 Robert rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
I felt like I was trying to sit through fifteen hours of Good Morning America.

The Supreme Court as a Roy Rogers movie - petty men in black hats and heroic selfless ones in white hats. Lots of factual statments about the unknowable emotions and mental processes of the Justices. I guess being a Washington Post reporter qualifies you to write "nonfiction" as an omniscient narrator.
Feb 24, 2011 Erik rated it it was amazing
Although I had never read anything by Woodward before this, I was well acquainted – as any educated American should – with him as one of the reporters for The Washington Post who helped expose Nixon’s deception and duplicity in the Watergate scandal. In this 1979 book, Woodward and co-writer Armstrong recount the first eight terms of the Warren E. Burger court, with a specific eye at the philosophical, judicial, and political debates and battles with the Supreme Court. After several decades of a ...more
Oct 13, 2016 Caroline rated it really liked it
A fascinating, intricate look at how the Court operates and how it functioned (or didn't function) under Nixon.
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Robert "Bob" Upshur Woodward is an assistant managing editor of The Washington Post. While an investigative reporter for that newspaper, Woodward, working with fellow reporter Carl Bernstein, helped uncover the Watergate scandal that led to U.S. President Richard Nixon's resignation. Woodward has written 12 best-selling non-fiction books and has twice contributed reporting to efforts that collecti ...more
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