July 17, 2023

The Majority

By Elizabeth L. Silver
Review by
While The Majority is a clear homage to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elizabeth L. Silver paints a full portrait of Sylvia, whose life unfolds during some of the most consequential events in American history.
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There is no institution in the United States more powerful, more mysterious, more impenetrable than the Supreme Court. It’s rare when we get to see the nine sitting justices as mere mortals—whether in moments of horror and disappointment, such as the sexual misconduct case against Brett Kavanaugh, or in moments of levity, as when Ruth Bader Ginsburg dozed off during the 2015 State of the Union.

In Elizabeth L. Silver’s engrossing and thought-provoking novel The Majority, we meet Justice Sylvia Olin Bernstein, aka “the Contemptuous S.O.B.” A flinty and aging justice, she decides it’s time to tell her life story—messy relationships, heartbreak and all. While The Majority is a clear homage to Ginsburg, Silver (The Execution of Noa P. Singleton) paints a full portrait of Sylvia, whose life unfolds during some of the most consequential events in American history. 

Sylvia’s mother dies when she is young, leaving her in a loving but bleak home in New York with her devout Jewish father and a cousin who fled the Nazis after her entire family was killed. Sylvia gets her chance to move on when she’s one of only nine women admitted in 1959 to Harvard Law School. With her vast intelligence and force of will, Sylvia ascends to the highest levels of the United States legal system.

As is so often the case for trailblazers, her success comes with significant sacrifice, both personally and professionally. When she takes on a landmark case involving a woman who lost her job when she became pregnant, Sylvia realizes she has been preparing for this case for most of her life. “My mother told me when I was twelve years old that we—women—were close to being the larger group in America,” she tells the plaintiff. “Well, now women are the majority, and yet we hold almost no power at all. In some small way, perhaps this is a slight chiseling away at that. And if successful, it’s a legacy you can pass on to more than [your child]. It’s a legacy to pass on to an entire country.”

The Majority is more than an entertaining read, although it is certainly that. It’s a profound contemplation of how women are treated by the law and how they administer the law. The Contemptuous S.O.B. is both a brilliant jurist and an all-too-human woman fighting against a system stacked against her. 

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The Majority

The Majority

By Elizabeth L. Silver
ISBN 9780593331088

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