Ultra Vires


Retired Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella Donates Library to U of T Law

A glimpse into the reading habits of a former Supreme Court Justice

After 17 years at the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC), Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella retired on July 1, 2021. A University of Toronto alumna, she gifted the Faculty of Law her personal book collection. Law students at U of T now have the opportunity to browse and borrow from nearly 1000 books selected by the former Supreme Court justice.

Justice Abella’s personal book collection in Jackman Hall. Credit: Jacqueline Huang.

“The gift of her personal book collection, from literature to legal texts, is very special and will feed the intellectual curiosity of our students,” remarked Dean Jutta Brunnée.

Justice Abella’s collection is wide-ranging; from mystery novels to philosophical texts, to a copy of Broadway’s Hamilton, the titles showcase Justice Abella’s varied interests and appreciation for all forms of writing. An administrative law textbook, a slightly older version of the one used in today’s class, sits beside a copy of Graham Greene’s Reflections. Kafka’s The Trial stands out against a shelf of Law Review journals. And my personal favourite, Michael Geist’s In the Public Interest: The Future of Canadian Copyright Law, closely eyes Abella’s extensive Margaret Atwood collection, an irony considering Geist and Atwood hold radically different views on copyright law. 

Her collection is divided into the following categories: Arts; Biographies; Complete Collection by Author; Human, Women, and Aboriginal Rights; Jewish Literature; Judiciary; Law; and Novels. 

Perhaps more exciting, her book inventory reveals where each text sat in her office at the Supreme Court, with the aptly-named “Duck” and “Tea Pot” libraries in contrast with the “pile of books under your writing table.” 

It is clear from her collection that Justice Abella is extremely well read, not only in legal scholarship but in all kinds of literature. She noted that by reading broadly, students may inform their understanding of law and justice and learn life lessons alongside legal principles.

The Rosalie Silberman Abella collection can be found on the third floor of the Jackman Hall Law Building, across from student services. As of January 2022, Justice Abella will also be a Distinguished Visiting Jurist, participating in seminars, workshops, and informal events at the Faculty of Law. 

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