Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Partisan by John A. Jenkins

Rehnquist was vying for [literary agent] Lantz's attention yet again, this time with an idea for a historical novel--"or movie or play"--based on Custer's Last Stand. Rehnquist wanted to write a fictionalized account of a court-martial of one of Custer's few surviving officers. He intended to bring in some Civil War greats even though they had had no role in the original court of inquiry: Generals Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Philip Sheridan. Lantz told him to forget it.

I am not a regular reader of biography. However, when this book came out, I added it to my Amazon "save for later" list. I forgot about it until, a couple months later, I saw that it was reduced from its full price of nearly $30 to $3 (I may be exaggerating...but I remember it being really, really inexpensive). I then set it on my shelf and proceeded to not think about the book for nearly four years.

But after Notes from a Dead House, I was still waiting for my next batch of books to read, so I picked this up. I'm glad I did; Jenkins is a good writer, so this was a quick, interesting read. His basic point is that the former Chief Justice was a highly partisan person. Deeply conservative, deeply against the liberal excesses of the Warren court.

So, we get to follow Rehnquist from childhood, to law school, through his time as a prominent conservative attorney in Phoenix, his time working for the Nixon administration, his time as an associate justice, then as chief justice.

The portrait reveals a man who was both talented and faithful to conservative ideals. Jenkins presents Rehnquist as conservative to a fault, less a jurist and more politician in judge's robes.

The passage above ends a particularly hilarious chapter in which Jenkins describes Rehnquist's literary aspirations. Rehnquist, apparently, believed he had more in him than merely being on the Supreme Court. Through a mutual acquaintance, he connected with a literary agent who agreed to review a copy of Rehnquist's manuscript. This manuscript was terrible, apparently. For years, they went back and forth with revisions. Finally Rehnquist gave up. The passage above was his second idea for a novel.

Another ominous indication that lawyers can't write novels. Alas.

The book is worth reading for the Supreme Court nerds out there. Because Jenkins writes well, it's a fun and quick read. There's an ostensible "cool" factor simply because of the people around--other Supreme Court justices and important figures in the executive branch. It's also a fascinating view into the life of a Supreme Court justice.

With that said, sometimes the book reads as though Jenkins is more interested in proving his hypothesis than simply laying out the facts. When he is simply laying out the facts, the hypothesis proves itself. However, other times it feels like Jenkins is inserting his own commentary into his biography.

Still, a good read.

1 comment:

Brittany said...

Well, if you can't write a book because you're an attorney, perhaps lead a book-worthy life so that some day a non-attorney can write about you. I just know an RBG musical will be coming soon (especially with the new coloring book's success!)