Books about constitutional law and court cases can be abstruse or fascinating, and this book definitely falls into the latter camp. Toobin does a terrific job of weaving the stories of the personalities of the recent Supreme Court into a review of the decisions they have handled. In particular, he focuses on cases challenging Roe v. Wade, affirmative action, gay rights, executive privilege, and other issues that now divide the country.
Toobin maintains that the Constitution’s flexibility allows ideology to trump precedent. He avers:
…when it comes to the incendiary matters that come before the Court, what matters is not the quality of arguments but the identity of the Justices.”
Therefore, he concludes,
…one factor only will determine the future of the Supreme Court: the outcome of presidential elections.”
He explains how and why each of the recent Justices got the presidential nomination, and what the appointments have meant for the Court and the Country.
It is downright scary to hear Toobin’s story of how the far right, through such organizations as the Federalist Society, successfully pushed its agenda onto the Court, even before the more active intervention of monied groups today. Sandra Day O’Connor’s abhorrence of the direction taken by the Republican party helped push her to the left of where she started out. As a result, she took a key role in tipping decisions 5-4 toward the more liberal end of the spectrum. When she left the Court to take care of her ailing husband, the only person remaining who was even close to the “middle” was Anthony Kennedy.
Toobin has wonderful anecdotes to share about the justices, although he clearly knows the most about those who have been there the longest. And he didn’t seem to have many insights into the character of Clarence Thomas at the time of this book’s writing. But the information he does have on the justices is riveting, and Toobin’s writing is clear, sharp, and consistently entertaining.
Verdict: Read this book!
Published by Doubleday, an imprint of The Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., 2007