The Marble Palace Blog: Author John Grisham and the Supreme Court Thrillers

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The United States Supreme Court in Washington, DC on October 1, 2021 (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi / ALM)

Thanks for reading the Marble Palace blog, which I hope will inform and surprise you about the Supreme Court of the United States. My name is Tony Mauro. I have covered the Supreme Court since 1979 and for American Lawyer Media since 2000. I semi-retired in 2019, but I am still fascinated by the High Court. I will be happy to receive advice or suggestions for topics to write. You can reach me at [email protected].


Famous author John Grisham released a new book this week, titled “The Judges List”. It will definitely be a bestseller, as Grisham’s legal thrillers are always bestsellers.

You might be wondering what Grisham and his book have to do with the Supreme Court of the United States (aka the Marble Palace.) After all, as the title suggests, this is a judge, not a judge. But there are links:

-> In 1992, in his early days as an author, Grisham wrote “The Pelican Brief”, which began with the assassination of two Supreme Court justices. It was one of the first books in the Supreme Court thriller genre and was quickly turned into a movie starring Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington. Footnote below: My favorite Supreme Court thrillers.

-> Grisham was a practicing lawyer and representative for the State of Mississippi and has continued to keep abreast of legal matters even as he writes. He is a long-time supporter of the Innocence Project. In 2008, while promoting his book “The Appeal,” he was asked if the plot – a business executive funding the election of a state Supreme Court judge to rig a case – was exaggerated. “It’s happened before,” Grisham replied. “It happened a few years ago in West Virginia.” It was a reference to the Caperton v. AT Massey Coal Co. case, which had similar characteristics.

->This week, New York Times Supreme Court correspondent Adam Liptak asked Grisham what he thought of the current Supreme Court. Grisham’s response: “It’s very scary. I think the Supreme Court lost so much credibility in 2000 when five Republicans on the ground saw a chance to elect a president, and they did. And by then it became a very political tribunal, and that hasn’t changed over the years, certainly not over the past four years. The way McConnell succeeded in hijacking the Supreme Court was nothing but crude, tough politics. And that probably won’t change for many years to come. It is now Trump’s court.

-> When Judge Elena Kagan’s decision in Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth judicial district. To research was released in March, legal writing expert Ross Guberman said Kagan could now “claim the title of greatest living legal writer.” He added: “Ten years after writing about bankrupt cars, she turns to a specific jurisdiction case involving a Ford Explorer. How does she make civil proceedings look like John Grisham? This is a great praise.

My favorite Supreme Court thrillers (besides “The Pelican Brief”)

  • Brad Meltzer’s “The Tenth Justice” (1997), with the twist of a blackmailed lawyer.
  • “The Last Justice” (2012), “The Advocate’s Daughter” (2016) and “The Outsider” (2017), all by Anthony Franze, involving clerks, judges and lawyers. A lawyer at Arnold & Porter, Franze is the only Supreme Court practitioner to write in the genre.
  • “Supreme Ambitions” (2014) by David Lat, highlighting aspiring jurists.
  • Paul Levine’s “9 Scorpions” (1998), featuring a cleric with an unusual background.
  • “While Justice Sleeps” (2021) by Stacey Abrams, also with a clerk in hot water.


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