Supreme Court reporter (and current Reuters legal editor) Joan Biskupic has written Breaking In: The Rise of Sonia Sotomayor and the Politics of Justice. It is an engaging and insightful book on Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s path to the Supreme Court and the Justice’s complex relationship with the other Justices on the Court. Although not a straight-out biography, the book tells two parallel stories: the path of Justice Sotomayor from growing up as a poor girl with Puerto Rican parents in New York to the U.S. Supreme Court and the politics of the first judicial nomination of an Hispanic Justice to the Supreme Court (the material on the failed Miguel Estrada DC Circuit nomination was particularly fascinating).
What is perhaps most original in Biskupic’s reporting (which relied on interviews with many Supreme Court Justices, although they usually would not agree to be quoted by name) is an understanding of Justice Sotomayor’s role on the Court. Biskupic ably describes Justice Sotomayor’s strong personality, and willingness to go it alone and sometimes to go up even against her ally Justice Ginsburg; the Justice’s move to change the nature of what it means to be a Supreme Court Justice, and how other Justices should interact with the public, the bar, and other members of the Court; and how her personal experiences shape her judging. (The inside information on the drafting of the Fisher affirmative action decision is especially fascinating for Court watchers).
The picture that Biskupic paints of Justice Sotomayor is much like the picture Biskupic painted in her earlier excellent biography of Justice Scalia: a rich, complex, very smart person, full of contradictions, full of passion about ideas and ideals, and still fighting some demons from childhood. Biskupic paints in shades of gray while many other writers who write about the Justices know only black and white–trying to make an ideological point in the course of describing the Court. That’s not Biskupic’s way. A must read.