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A lively, concise history that frames America’s unifying principles against the country’s remarkable diversity.
From the Revolution to the iPhone, answers to 900 questions about the events, people, and technologies that made America.
The finest single-volume portrait of a profoundly complex figure who was at once visionary and tragically flawed.
Sandra Day O'Connor, then an obscure state judge in Arizona (after serving as the Republican majority leader in the Arizona Senate), was picked by President Ronald Reagan in 1981 to become the First Woman on the Supreme Court (FWOTC)—fulfilling Reagan’s promise to name a woman to the nation’s highest court. Bill Clinton would emulate Reagan a decade later by making Ruth Bader Ginsburg, then serving on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, his first nominee to the Court. After graduating high in her law school class at Stanford, O’Connor had received no job offers from a law firm; her rise to the top of the legal profession took the path of political success as an active member of the Republican Party. No one succeeds in the political world without an ability to work well with others, and Hirshman emphasizes O’Connor’s impressive social skills (including preparing good dinners). Ruth Bader Ginsburg, on the other hand, followed a quite different path to the Court, by throwing her formidable talents as a lawyer into sustained litigation for the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of woman’s rights. (And the impressive dinners were all prepared by her husband and champion, tax lawyer Martin Ginsburg.) Far more of a self-conscious feminist than O’Connor, Ginsburg has been concerned to help women achieve far more independence and equality for women in what has been a male-dominated world. Hirshman perhaps understandably focuses primarily on the response of each justice to cases that involved the rights of women (or, with some frequency, of men who were making their own version of “gender equality” arguments with regard, say, to Social Security programs that were predicated on stereotypical views of men and women as likely breadwinners). Hirshman contrasts Ginsburg’s laser-focused determination to O’Connor’s far greater willingness to compromise in ways that made it harder for women in fact to win cases below. For example, a major case the Court is likely to hear next year will examine exactly what constitutes an “undue burden” on abortion, an ambiguous term strongly embraced by O’Connor. The FWOTSC has, of course, been succeeded by three others, and a recurrent question is whether they bring a distinctive “woman’s voice” or consciousness to the Court that is truly different from that of the men who continue to dominate it. One might cavil at the claim that these two “sisters in law” truly “changed the world.” Lawyers (and authors writing about the Supreme Court) often exaggerate the importance of the Court. Still, it is enough to say that both O’Connor and Ginsburg have been important members of an important institution, and Hirshman has written an interesting, accessible, fair-minded, and illuminating study of both the FW and SW on the Supreme Court.