At the Altar of the Appellate Gods
Arguing before the US Supreme Court
Published by: Red Lightning Books
Have you ever wondered what it's like to argue before the Supreme Court of the United States?
In this poignant and compelling memoir, Lisa Sarnoff Gochman captures the terror, wonder, and joy of preparing for and arguing a landmark criminal case before the nine justices of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC. At the Altar of the Appellate Gods traces the arc of a violent, racially motivated crime by white supremacist Charles C. Apprendi Jr. in rural Vineland, New Jersey, through the New Jersey state court system, and all the way up to the Supreme Court, where Gochman defended the constitutionality of New Jersey's Hate Crime Statute before a very hot bench. Gochman went head-to-head with Justice Antonin Scalia, fielded tough questions from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and strolled down memory lane with Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
Told with grace and humor, At the Altar of the Appellate Gods will interest anyone who is curious about the inner workings of our court system and what it is really like to bring a case before the highest court in the country.
"Lisa Gochman tells the story of her one argument before the US Supreme Court with warmth, humor, and a dose of well-earned pride. Here is a rare glimpse of life at the court—not on the bench but in front of it—that even experienced court-watchers will find illuminating."~Linda Greenhouse, author of Justice on the Brink: The Death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg
"An entertaining and informative look at the challenges facing a lawyer making her first argument before the Supreme Court—in what turns out to be one of the most important criminal law cases of the decade. At the Altar of the Appellate Gods shows not just the legal side, but also the human side, of this once-in-a-lifetime experience."~Dan Schweitzer
"The rarefied lawyers who argue before the US Supreme Court often call it the pinnacle of their appellate careers. But they rarely talk about the arduous, intense, nerve-racking, drop-everything steps they take to get to the lectern for a half-hour of answering a barrage of questions from the nine most important jurists in the nation. In a book that every appellate lawyer or Supreme Court aficionado should read, Lisa Sarnoff Gochman has pulled back the velvet curtain of the court to reveal what it is really like to argue before the Supreme Court. Gochman, currently of counsel at Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office in New Jersey, argued 22 years ago in Apprendi v. New Jersey, an important criminal law case ruling that juries, not judges should decide when factors increase the penalty for a crime. Her book, At the Altar of the Appellate Gods: Arguing Before the US Supreme Court, is frank, funny, and a page-turner at times as Gochman vividly spells out the inside details leading up to oral argument day. An example: lawyers about to argue waited at the Lawyer's Lounge, where the clerk of the court offered advice on what to do and not do (such as don't call a justice 'judge'). They were also offered cough drops, aspirin, Band-Aids, and yes, smelling salts, of all things. "I was comforted to know that fainting in the United States Supreme Court was not unprecedented," she wrote. Oyez, oyez, read this book!"~Tony Mauro, Supreme Court journalist for 43 years and author of several books about the court's landmark cases
"No 'dehydrated peach' of a legal treatise or trial transcript here! At the Altar of the Appellate Gods takes us on one woman's colossal roller coaster ride of presenting argument at the United States Supreme Court in the landmark hate-crime sentencing case of Apprendi v. New Jersey. Through Lisa Gochman's vivid and candid account, we're on the white-knuckled ride with her—cheering her hard work and successes while commiserating with her self-doubts and tribulations—and come away better understanding our judicial system. A great read for lawyers, law students, and anyone interested in the appellate process."~Marlene Trestman, author of Fair Labor Lawyer:The Remarkable Life of New Deal Attorney and Supreme Court Advocate Bessie Margolin
"Lisa Gochman's excellent memoir about her argument before the United States Supreme Court is lively, engaging, funny, warm, and kind. Her well-paced book adeptly weaves together the personal and professional parts of the story. The writing is admirably clear—accurate for the legal or even specialist reader yet accessible to anyone."~Edward DuMont, Supreme Court litigator
"Legal-minded readers and SCOTUS watchers will enjoy the author's account of her brief spell in the lion's den."~Kirkus Reviews
"At the At the Altar of the Appellate Gods: Arguing before the US Supreme Court, tells the story of how the experience of arguing Apprendi made a lasting impact on one of the attorneys. . . . At slightly under 200 pages (including endnotes) At the Altar of the Appellate Gods is a fast-paced, behind-the-scenes account of Gochman's preparation for oral argument culminating in that monumental day in front of the nine justices. She is by turns reverent and irreverent, sometimes self-deprecating, but always cognizant of her responsibility to the State of New Jersey and ultimately, the family who were victimized by Apprendi."~Elizabeth Kelley, American Bar Association, ABA Criminal Justice Section Newsletter
Law.com feature: The Marble Palace Blog: What It's Really Like to Argue Before SCOTUS