Becoming Justice Blackmun: Harry Blackmun's Supreme Court Journey Becoming Justice Blackmun: Harry Blackmun's Supreme Court Journey by Linda Greenhouse


My rating: 3 of 5 stars
More history than biography, written almost entirely on the basis of Blackmun's recently unsealed papers (he kept everything). It's a bit of a weird book because of that. The opening biographical sketches getting Blackmun to his Scotus appointment are very cursory, as these things go, and the real meat of the book is the themed sections on abortion and Blackmun's authorship of Roe, then the death penalty through Greg v. Ga. and beyond, and to women's rights (which were, by the way, completely unrelated to the abortion issue for Blackmun, at least at first).

Ah, Blackmun. Thin-skinned, tetchy, precise, finicky, rigorous, occasionally quite funny. That comes through in this book, in his personal notes, casual correspondence, editorial marginalia on letters and drafts. What doesn't really come through is the bigger picture. You'd really think that the personal papers would give the best view of how Blackmun, the Nixon appointee, swung in the last third of his life from voting almost entirely with the conservative Burger end of the court to almost entirely with Brennan and often Marshall. But Blackmun, who wrote down nearly everything else, didn't really explain that, and neither does this book, quite. So the focus on the Blackmun lens is interesting, but not as illuminating as I thought it would be, and the whole book is a bit lighter weight than I was hoping.

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