Perry to Release New Book on U.S. Supreme Court

| February 17, 2009

Sweet Briar professor of government Barbara A. Perry has completed a second edition of her book, “The Supremes.”

“ ‘The Supremes’: An Introduction to the Supreme Court Justices” is scheduled to be released in the spring of 2009 with new chapters on Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito. Perry also has written fresh biographical sketches and analyses of the other seven justices on the court.

Perry was a judicial fellow at the Supreme Court from 1994 to 1995 and drew heavily from that experience for the book’s first edition, published in 1999 with the original title, “ ‘The Supremes’: Essays on the Current Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States.” The book was re-released in 2001.

After nearly 25 years of watching the court from close range, Perry says she is still fascinated by the institution and the personalities of the justices. She frequently attends oral arguments and works personally with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Roberts through the Supreme Court Summer Institute for Teachers, where she has served as a consultant and teacher since 1995. The annual institute is co-sponsored by the Supreme Court Historical Society and Street Law.

Perry wants the book to appeal to general audiences. In it, she uses first-hand observations and research to delve into how the justices’ personal stories influence their decisions on everything from affirmative action and free speech to gun control.

“ ‘The Supremes’ introduces readers to the intriguing personalities who sit at the pinnacle of America’s judiciary and how they decide the most important cases in our nation’s history,” Perry said. “Sandra Day O’Connor once told me, ‘We are all the sum total of our experiences. But I leave mine at the threshold of this Court.’ I believe they all try to do so, but their lives inevitably shape their decisions.”

Accounting for the justices’ life experiences is essential to understanding the court in its full context, said Fred Echols, a host of “Evening Edition,” a current affairs talk show produced by public radio station WVTF in Roanoke. Perry is a regular guest on the show when the topic is the Supreme Court.

Beyond her grasp of the court’s history and precedents, Perry has a “particular knowledge of current issues not only in an academic sense, but because she so often is at the court when cases are argued,” Echols said. “It gives her a perspective a lot of other experts don’t have.”

She can describe a tone of voice, a roll of the eyes, or note who is listening and who is not during arguments, Echols said. “You don’t get that, you can’t get that if you’re not at the court from time to time.”

Perry is the author of more than 30 articles and several books. She has written extensively on the Supreme Court, affirmative action, the Kennedy family and U.S. first ladies. She is working on two new books, a political biography of Rose Kennedy and one tentatively titled “Catholics and the Supreme Court.”

A native of Louisville, Ky., Perry earned a Ph.D. in government from the University of Virginia, an M.A. in politics, philosophy and economics from Oxford University, and a bachelor’s in political science, with highest honors, from the University of Louisville.

Jennifer McManamay

Category: Government and International Affairs