Saturday, April 3, 2010

twenty-five

The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court

Jeffrey Toobin usually annoys me on CNN, so I picked The Nine up with a bit of dread. Fortunately the reason I erroneously thought he was inane and stupid on TV had more to do with TV and the usually moronic subjects they turn to their legal experts for than Toobin's intellect itself. He knows the Supreme Court much better than Anna Nicole Smith and divorce lawyers - and we come out the winners of that in The Nine. I knew just enough about the Supreme Court to get by in politics and DC, and just enough to know that a legal career wasn't in my future. This book serves as an excellent introduction to the last 14 or so Justices, the day-to-day of the Court, the important decisions of the last few decades, the effect the Court's had on society and politics, and most importantly, the measures being taken to influence the Court itself. If you don't know a whole lot about any of those things, this book is for you, and will actually entertain you. Toobin has a liberal perspective, so if this sort of thing would bother you, it's probably not your best introduction. But it only comes out rarely and didn't get in the way of communicating the facts. Toobin's writing is clear and lively, when it could so easily get bogged down in dates and _____ v. ______ formatting.

You get a picture of how close the court was to striking down Roe v. Wade in the Planned Parenthood v. Casey case in the early 90s - if it weren't for a chance meeting O'Connor had with Souter that pulled Kennedy away from the majority, Roe would have been struck down by a 5 Justice majority. Rehnquist was already writing the majority opinion that would do just that when Kennedy bolted and wrote a new majority opinion. Scalia was not happy at all, and throughout the book you get a picture of just how pugnacious and angry he is at just about everything. O'Connor's power as the swing justice on the court is more fascinating than you'd think - she didn't want the power and tried to circumscribe the scope of her role when writing opinions. Thomas is also fascinating - his hatred of those who opposed his nomination bursts out at odd times, all the while he exists as the most friendly justice to regular people working at the Court. He's also an RV nut - who'd have thought?

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