Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court

When Bill Moyers speaks, I listen. Ever since reading his wonderful collection of interviews World of Ideas I have been an unabashed admirer of the man and his work. Recently he interviewed Jeffrey Toobin on his pbs show The Journal. (If you haven't seen it yet, do yourself a favor and tune in.) Toobin is a lawyer who writes popular law books. His book The Nine was listed as one of the ten best books of 2007. During the interview with Moyers, Toobin explained the importance of the upcoming election for the Supreme Court; the next president will either finish the conservative sweep of the majority begun with Roberts and Alito or nominate Dems and maintain the tenuous balance. I decided I wanted to get better informed.

The Nine writes like a collection of small biographies. Each of the justices is introduced in both a personal and political context. Toobin clearly has his favorites. Thomas and Scalia are both portrayed as arrogant and reactionary. Toobin argues--and I agree--that Scalia's insistence on neutrality and originalism is bullshit. He is an activist judge who is blinded by his convictions. The liberal judges clearly hold a priveledged position in Toobin's judicial perspective.

A central message to this book is the partisanship of the judges. The theory of law held by each judge is ultimately an elaborate justification for their political views. Scalia, the States' rights warrior, quickly overruled the Florida Supreme Court to assist Bush in the 2000 election. Thomas' aversion of big government doesn't hinder his support for a legal restriction on women's own bodies in abortion. How does Rehnquist reconcile his position in favor of state legislated Christian groups with his position against state legislated affirmative action? Simple. They are both on the Republican agenda.

I think the lesson is that the ability to nominate a Supreme Court justice should be taken from the president. The political influence has proven too great. There is no other way to conclude after witnessing the Court overturn many of its recent precedents not through a change in argument or public opinion but simply through the placement of two new judges.

I would recommend this book for anyone looking for an introduction to the judges. There is another book, A Court Divided, by Mark Tushnet that also does a good job in this respect. What is missing in both of these books is a thorough look at the important cases of the Court. The emphasis is more political and personal than legal. Rehnquist's History of the Supreme Court was a good read for somebody interested in becoming familiar with the cases that have provided the context and precendent for today's legal battles.

1 comment:

Yo Yo Sammy said...

sounds like a great read