Debate over "The Brethren," the new book by Bob Woodard and Scott Armstrong about the inner workings of the Supreme Court, began long before its content were unknown.

Justices wondered whether it might "poison" relationships among them or between them and their law clerks, their most trusted aides. Justices and court observers wondered whether it might chill the free and open debate they now enjoy in the privacy of their conferences.

And some, at the extreme, thought it could contribute to an undermining of respect for the court and its authority.

"The court has a mystique," said Robert Bork, a Yale Law School professor and former solicitor general of the United States. "It purports to speak to us in the name of the Constitution, which is our fundamental national document. For that reason, it is a court with a great deal of respect. Anything that tends to undermine that respect may tend to undermine the court's authority."

The book is a detailed account of seven years of the court's work. It is based on thousands of internal with several justices and more than 170 former court clerks.

Much of the concern comes less from what the book reveals than from the fact that it reveals anything, that the secrecy of one of the country's most secretive government institutions has been breached in a wholesale way.

"If people know that everything they say positions they explore, may later become public knowledge," said Bork, "they're going to behave differently, with less candor, less willingness to try out ideas."

"Why should there be any revelation?" said Leonard Janofsky, president of the American Bar Association. "The important thing is the result, the opinions of the court. There's more than enough brought out in the public so that if there's any concern, it can be picked up from the opionion."

None of the justices would comment publicly on their views. Many are known to be outraged. But one former justice, Arthur Goldberg, took a softer view. (Goldberg is one of four surviving former justices. The others are William O. Douglas, Abe Fortas, and Stanley Forman Reed, according to Congressional Directory.)

Goldberg said he, too, wondered whether justices' fear of future revelations might "frustrate negotiations" among them on cases.

But he said he feels there should be "more openness" on the court's work. He said he had no objection to participants in cases discussing internal goings-on after a time lapse: "Maybe after five years has gone by. Then it's ancient history."

Goldberg is in the minority, however. Revelations, even long after a decision is made, "will stultify the willingness of justices to be frank and open and to get to the bottom of an issue," said Janofsky. "They'll always have lurking in the bottom of their minds the thought that things could become public. It is a very chilling, chilling effect."