Aug 24, 2009

The Nine - Jeffrey Toobin

The sub-title is "Inside The Secret World of the Supreme Court". The book is not a history but instead it is a snapshot of of each jurist more or less since Earl Warren. For me there were several surprises as I read the book.

The author obviously believes Sandra O'Connor to have been a very effective and important jurist. She is depicted as the swing vote and therefore the deciding vote most of the years she spent on the bench. She is also described as very smart, firm in her beliefs, and a jurist that always strives for the middle ground.

The authors' take on Antoin Scalia was less complimentary. Scalia is shown as volatile, argumentative, and not intellectually deep. This was a disappointment for me as I tend to admire Scalia.

Justice Thomas was another disappointment. According to the author Thomas is not admired for his verbal silence on the court and has written few outstanding decisions. He is passed over quickly and the reader is left with the impression that Thomas is not one of the more important justices.

The book goes on to review most of the justices since the time of World War II. It's written by a journalist and generally sticks to the facts as he sees them. There are very few of the author's opinions in the book, but there are a few:
  • It had been almost twenty years since Roe vs Wade, and while the court ad allowed states to regulate and limit abortion during that time, there had been little doubt that the Constitution forbade a complete prohibition on abortion.
  • Notably, Scalia's intemperate dissent was joined not just by Thomas (as was customary), but by Roberts and Alito as well - revealing their true feelings about the power of the executive branch, which had been a conservative cause since the Reagan years.
  • Warren Burger, the former chief justice and hardly a liberal thinker, once made the same point in an earthier way. In an interview, he said the idea that the Second Amendment prohibited gun control was "one of the greatest pieces of fraud" on the American public by special interest groups."

  • This was a good book to read, a little tedious at times, but an excellent study of just how the Supreme Court works. Recommended.