Law and Conversation

September 17, 2010

Judges and courts in nonfiction

Filed under: Books and writing,judiciary,Law — Helen Gunnarsson @ 12:01 am
Tags: , , ,

With the news about Chief Justice Thomas Fitzgerald’s retirement, Illinois appellate justice Mary Jane Theis’s appointment to the Illinois supreme court as his replacement, and the election of Justice Thomas Kilbride as new chief justice, it’s been hard to keep up with the court this week.

In addition to registering for the court’s own e-mail service for announcements and press releases or following the court’s Twitter account, though, there’s another good way to keep up with the judiciary in Illinois:  bookmark Chicago lawyer Jack Leyhane’s blog, “For What It’s Worth,” ” where he posts timely news and analysis of Illinois judges and courts, or add it to your RSS reader.   

I thanked Leyhane yesterday for adding this blog to his blogroll.  As I noted, he and a number of others provided me with some great commentary for two of my three articles on becoming a judge in the latest issue of the Illinois Bar Journal.  I’m delighted to note that my articles will be included in the materials for a CLE symposium on judicial selection that ISBA is putting on next month.

The announcement of Chief Justice Fitzgerald’s retirement appeared to take everyone by surprise.  I’ve interviewed the justice twice, for a profile on his becoming the chief two years ago and in July, along with three of his fellow justices, for my current lead article.  I concluded the latter with my favorite quote from him, a response to a question I asked him about lawyers who doubt their abilities to be good judges:  “Good for you.  You should have self-doubt.  I hope you can hang onto it, for it’s a worthwhile thing to have.”  In his interview, Justice Fitzgerald revealed himself to be impeccably courteous and courtly–exactly as one would hope and expect someone at the top of the legal profession to be.

For more about the judiciary, check out the archives of the (sadly) no longer active “Underneath Their Robes” blog, written by the inimitable and irrepressible David Lat as his alter ego, Article III Groupie.  Lat, who now oversees the deliciously snarky “Above The Law” blog, was unmasked, with his cooperation, in the November 21, 2005 issue of The New Yorker, by lawyer and writer Jeffrey Toobin.

Toobin, in turn, published “The Nine:  Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court” in 2007.  As he was gathering material for his book, Toobin landed interviews with not only some of the justices themselves but also many present and former law clerks.  Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong’s “The Brethren” laid the groundwork for Toobin’s and others’ books about the inner workings of the court, of course.  Further back in time, Malvina Shanklin Harlan’s memoir, “Some Memories of a Long Life,” recounting stories of her 54-year marriage to 19th century Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan, is available in hardcover now that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has edited it.  The Library of Congress holds that manuscript and the archives of various supreme court justices.

For books about Illinois’s own courts, check out “Courtroom 302:  A  Year Behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse” by Chicago journalist Steve Bogira, “Rule 53:  Capturing Hippies, Spies, Politicians, and Murderers in an American Courtroom,” by courtroom sketch artist Andy Austin, and “Greylord:  Justice, Chicago Style,” by journalists James Tuohy and Rob Warden.

What other nonfiction books and websites about courts have you enjoyed?


  1. I really enjoyed “A Court That Shaped America : Chicago’s Federal District Court from Abe Lincoln to Abbie Hoffman” by Richard Cahan. Some of the information about how the court used to operate is absolutely fascinating.

    Comment by Bryan — September 17, 2010 @ 12:47 pm | Reply

    • Thanks for the recommendation, Bryan! I love seeing other people’s reading lists and favorites.

      Comment by helengunnar — September 17, 2010 @ 4:06 pm | Reply

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