Gossip

Jeffrey Rosen’s The Supreme Court: The Personalities and Rivalries That Defined America is about “the interaction between judicial philosophy and judicial temperament” with the latter defined as the “personality, character, upbringing and education, formative career experiences, work habits, and behavior when interacting with others”. I read that opening in Rosen’s book and wonder if I’m about to read an account of judicial gossip.

Judicial gossip — that brand of gossip about the highest jurists of the land, gossip shared by law professors, gossip printed, bound, and given place of primacy in law school libraries — but gossip nonetheless. Gossip, that fodder for small minds, that tale that breeds “the familiarity that breeds contempt” and destroys the “inaccessibility that promotes authority”, that fuzzy, messy, softie personality, character, and habits that chip away at the portrait of justices as umpires calling the game strictly according given rules.

Of course, Rosen’s book may not be properly classified as judicial gossip at all. In fact, the Library of Congress subject headings assigned to it are
1. United States. Supreme Court — History
2. Judges — United States — Biography
3. Judges — United States — History
4. Judges — United States — Psychology
5. Judges — United States — Biography (inexplicably identical to 2)

None of those is subjects is “chatty old women exchanging gossip”, and it being the Library of Congress, they surely know what they’re doing. Nevertheless, if the subject of the matter weren’t Supreme Court justices but rather the “personality, character, upbringing and education, formative career experiences, work habits, and behavior when interacting with others” of, say, Judge Judy, then not much about the subject headings would need to change then, need they?

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