Tag Archive: Stevens; John Paul

Mar 22

Review: Five Chiefs by John Paul Stevens

Five Chiefs

Guys, being #SaturdayLibrarian is no fun. Don’t get me wrong; I fully support the idea that public libraries should be open on Saturdays, and I don’t mind covering the reference desk when it’s my turn. But after a long week, on a day when the sun is shining and the number of people through the door is more of a trickle than a flood, it can be a little boring. So, I decided to put my time to good use and knock out the third book on my 2014 TBR Pile:¬†Five Chiefs¬†by John Paul Stevens.

A Gallup poll a few years ago found that way more people could name members of the Brady Bunch than could name Supreme Court justices. Well, one of the things that makes my relationship with Dale work so well is that we have an incredible fascination with the Supreme Court. Even though we often don’t agree with their rulings, the whole idea of a branch of government not being riddled with hate-mongering or unnecessary delays is really quite intriguing. John Paul Stevens served on the Supreme Court from 1975 to his retirement in 2010. Though he was appointed by Republican President Ford, he was widely considered to be one of the Court’s more liberal justices by the time of his retirement. In short, he was on the side of the angels.

John Paul Stevens

This picture of him on the right doesn’t really do him in any favors; he certainly doesn’t look like he’s on the side of the angels. This memoir gives a very quick look at his interactions with the Supreme Court, told through the framework of the five Chief Justices who shaped the Court over the course of his lifetime. So, we get bits from Fred Vinson, Earl Warren, Warren Burger, William Rehnquist, and John Roberts, Jr.

There are interesting moments in this book, but the pace is really clipped, and there are moments when I wish that Stevens would have taken more time. After all, he disposes of the entire story in about 200 pages. That’s not nearly enough time for all the gossipy bits that I want. Truth be told, there aren’t a lot of gossipy bits in this book, which makes sense since the Supreme Court is usually pretty tight-lipped. But at the same time, he does throw shade on other justices from time-to-time, noting how they “correctly” or “incorrectly” decided this or that issue. Their correctness of course being a direct measure of how much they agreed with him. So that’s good for a laugh.

And let’s not get it twisted: anybody who makes it to the Supreme Court and has the chance to shape the nation’s jurisprudence is someone deserving of respect. But sometimes Stevens can come off as a bit…crotchety. The Supreme Court building underwent some renovations in the 2000’s, and this was led by a three-judge panel that Stevens wasn’t on. Apparently, they redesigned the room where deliberations were held so that the table was now in the middle of the room instead of along one wall. Stephens harumphs about this for about five pages and mentions complaining about it to several other members, though nothing ever happened. He also through several pints of shade at Rehnquist’s decision to wear the gold bars on his robe when Rehnquist was Chief Justice. I know that these are minor points, but in book that covers his 35 year stint on the Court in about 150 pages (a good chunk happens before he ever hits the bench), it seems funny that these are the things that he’d still be focused on.

John Paul Stevens, on the side of the liberal angels. But crotchety if you move his stuff. I also bet he doesn’t like it when squirrels eat from the bird feeder.

JMF Rating: 5.5/10

‘Til next time,