§ion=&combo2=&text1=&text2=&SocNetUsername=&SocNetPassword=&authCode=& 7th Decade Thoughts: The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin

7th Decade Thoughts

Thoughts about books, politics and history (personal and otherwise), pictures I've taken and pictures I've edited.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin

I wasn't very enthused when this book was chosen by a nonfiction discussion group I belong to, but I ended up loving it. Toobin's narrative is interesting and accessible. You don't have to be a lawyer to understand it, though you'll learn some legal terms if you didn't know them. I got a bit confused by the numerous cases cited at first but the real focus is on the last few years when I've at least heard of the controversial cases and often know quite a lot, thanks to the PBS News Hour's detailed reporting on cases.

Toobin explains how the Supreme Count has moved from the "liberal" Earl Warren court to the "conservative" John Roberts court. In the process, he stops to characterize each of the Justices now serving on the Court (as well as several who've left it since the Reagan years). He talks about how during the Reagan administration the Federalist Society was formed with branches in law schools. Its founders were going against the grain since most law schools at that time were liberal. How members of this society dedicated their efforts, in the intervening years, to moving the highest court to the right is both a major theme of the book and a prediction of its conclusion: however unsuccessful George W Bush's presidency might seem, Bush has succeeded completely in choosing (and getting confirmed) two judges, both of whom are well to the right of any of the other justices. Toobin, whose book goes through the session which ended in 2007, shows how already decisions on abortion rights and affirmative action practices have been well to the right of previous decisions.

Sandra Day O'Connor, who became increasingly liberal as she tried to reflect the will of the people of the US, comes out as the hero of the book if a nonfiction book can be said to have a hero. Clarence Thomas turns out to be a nice guy if still the most rigid conservative one can imagine. The others are just as interesting. Read the book and see. The background on the justices is skillfully woven into the narrative; the book's structure is organic, moving backward and forward within the overall narrative of the move from left to right from the Reagan years to the present.

The case of the Bush v Gore in 2000, Toobin maintains, tarnished the Court's reputation, not because it made Bush president but because the Court shouldn't have taken the case in the first place. The history of the Supreme Court and the abortion issue permeates the book and makes me wonder again just what it tells about this country that so much time, energy and brainpower has been expended on this issue.

Toobin is a writer for The New Yorker and a legal analyst for CNN. His book is based on extensive interviews with each of the justices.


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