What to Expect from the Supreme Court
Eddie Lazarus' newest book reveals hitherto unknown machinations behind the nation's highest court
Published in 2009 Southern California Super Lawyers magazine
on January 21, 2009
Updated on April 18, 2009
They say if you want to write well, write about something you know.
Edward Lazarus, a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, did just that, churning out two highly acclaimed, if not somewhat controversial, nonfiction books on law.
Lazarus started writing his first book, an overview of the 57-year legal battle by the Sioux Indians over the U.S. government’s 1877 takeover of what is now western South Dakota, after graduating summa cum laude from Yale in 1981. He felt that he didn’t have the writing chops to finish it, however, and returned to Yale for his law degree, which he earned in 1987.
Following law school, he served as a clerk for Judge William A. Norris on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, then clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun from 1988 to 1989. (Norris is now a colleague of Lazarus’ at Akin Gump.)
Only then did Lazarus return to Yale on a fellowship and finish his first book. Titled Black Hills/White Justice, Lazarus says he wanted to “talk about the history of Indian-White relations and all of the legal issues affecting tribes using this case as a prism.”
Lazarus had a personal connection to the drawn-out legal battle. His father, Arthur Lazarus Jr., served as a principal attorney for the Sioux. “I grew up going to Indian reservations and had Indian leaders at the dinner table on a regular basis,” he recalls.
The senior Lazarus continues to work as an Indian affairs lawyer in Washington, D.C.
Sticking with the “write what you know” formula, Lazarus’ second book, Closed Chambers: The Rise, Fall, and Future of the Modern Supreme Court, combined his reflections as a Supreme Court clerk with some pointed criticisms about the actions of the politically motivated and deeply divided court.
The book stirred up a significant amount of controversy over Lazarus’ disclosure of the internal deliberations of the Supreme Court, which critics argued was confidential and protected by an oath taken by law clerks.
“The idea that this was some sort of kiss-and-tell book is, frankly, absurd,” Lazarus says. “It is an enormously serious and largely historical analysis of not just the Rehnquist court, but how we got there going back many decades.”
Lazarus says the isolation of cranking out his 600-page nonfiction tomes wore on him. “I enjoy the collegiality and collaboration of law practice,” he says. Now he satisfies his love for writing by authoring a regular column on FindLaw.com.