Q&A with Brian Porto, Author of May It Please the Court

Routledge sits down with author Brian Porto of May It Please the Court, Third Edition: Judicial Processes and Politics in America. Unlike the many dull and inaccessible texts in this field, May It Please The Court conveys the human drama of civil and criminal litigation.

Q. How does your text stand out from competing books about courts and the judicial process? 

A. My book gives a realistic picture of the burdens and benefits associated with attending law school and practicing law. Although it does not shortchange the Supreme Court, it emphasizes that most litigation occurs in criminal justice and civil justice processes far from the Supreme Court. Finally, the appendices introduce the sorts of documents that lawyers file during litigation and show students how to conduct legal research of their own.

Q. You are both a lawyer and a political scientist. How has your background shaped the development of this book?

A. I address both legal and political influences when explaining how courts work. I clerked for judges in three different state appellate courts, two Republicans and one Democrat. Only once or twice did I see ideology affect my boss’s vote. U.S. Supreme Court cases are the ones most likely to implicate the ideological variables that political scientists love to test.

Q. What changes in American law are featured in the new edition?

A. The most obvious have been the personnel changes on the Supreme Court: Justices Sotomayor and Kagan and now Justice Gorsuch. Gay marriage has become the law of the land, and the new edition devotes considerable attention to the way in which that came about. Legal training and the legal profession have undergone dramatic change in the past ten years because of economic developments and new technologies.

Q. What challenges do students face when studying the American legal system?

A. One is the consequences of federalism for our legal system. Another challenge, of course, is legal language. A third is the many sources of legal authority that exist in our system: Supreme Court decisions, the United States Constitution, decisions by lower federal courts and state courts, and so on. The illustrative cases concluding Chapters 1 through 9 in the book highlight many of these sources of American law.

Q. How do you mitigate the challenges of reconciling the roles played by law and politics in the American legal system?

A. Students are susceptible to two conflicting myths about American law, that “the law” is clear and objective—or that no daylight exists between law and politics. My book shows students how law and politics differ, but it also shows them how political questions can become legal questions.

"In nearly twenty years of teaching introduction to law, I’ve not found a better text than Porto’s for helping undergraduates grasp the decided intricacies of criminal and civil law. Grounded as it is in the latest legal research as well as endlessly fascinating case studies, May It Please the Court captures nicely the intersection, and occasional collision, of law and politics." 
--Jeffrey A. VanDerWerff, Professor of Political Science, Northwestern College

"May It Please the Court should be required for all undergraduate classes in law. It forges the vital connection that links the formal logic of the law, cases, and the courts to the broader contexts and confluences that really influence how legal institutions and the law operate in the United States. Porto has done an outstanding job explaining the political science of the judicial process, offering in clear and concise language a lively discussion of what students need to know to really understand the Supreme Court and the law. As someone who has taught constitutional law at both the undergraduate and law school level, I see May It Please the Court as a valuable teaching and learning resource."
David Schultz, Professor, Hamline University and University of Minnesota

"This book does an excellent job balancing the attention given to political and legal influences on the courts. It also illustrates each aspect of the judicial process with real-world examples, making content more accessible and compelling for students. Well-chosen case excerpts and thought-provoking questions at the end of each chapter make it easy to prompt substantive classroom discussions." 
--Maureen Strobb, Associate Professor, Georgia Southern University

"In this compact text, Brian Porto explores the nuts and bolts of our dual court system as well as the multiple political and legal influences impacting judicial decision making. Additionally, the two hypothetical cases capture students' attention and make the text a real winner – highly recommended."
 –Ron Nelson, Associate Professor, University of South Alabama

Do you think that May It Please the Court, Third Edition might be right for your course?

We would be happy to send you a complementary exam copy for your review. Request your copy here.

Brian Porto is a professor at Vermont Law School, where he teaches courses in legal writing, sports law, and election law. He holds a J.D. from Indiana University-Bloomington and a Ph.D. from Miami University (Ohio). He has taught political science at Macalester College (MN) and at Norwich University (VT), and has worked as a lawyer in both state government and private practice. He is licensed to practice law in Vermont and Indiana. Dr. Porto is the author of four books, most recently The Supreme Court and the NCAA: The Case for Less Commercialism and More Due Process in College Sports (University of Michigan Press, 2012), and numerous articles on legal issues and institutions. He lives in Windsor, VT with his wife, Sherrie Greeley. When not teaching or writing, he enjoys hiking, kayaking, and cross-country skiing.

Discover More

  • May It Please the Court

    Judicial Processes and Politics In America, 3rd Edition

    By Brian L. Porto

    This practical, comprehensive, and engaging introduction to the American judicial system is designed primarily for undergraduate students in criminal justice, liberal arts, political science, and beginning law. It differs from other texts not only by delivering an insider’s view of the courts, but…

    Paperback – 2017-08-09
    CRC Press

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