From Publishers Weekly
In this balanced, insightful assessment of the dynamics of today's Supreme Court (which may change very soon, with Chief Justice Rehnquist's illness), Tushnet, a constitutional law scholar at Georgetown, says that, in addition to the obvious divisions between conservative and liberal justices, fault lines have opened up within the conservative wing. On the touchy issue of judicial activism, Tushnet argues that all the justices are activists in pursuing their judicial goals. To explain the justices' activism and diverse agendas, the author delves into individual personal and intellectual histories. Each justice is profiled in relation to an area of constitutional law in which he or she holds distinctive views, such as Justice Scalia's search for absolute rules favoring free speech and Justice Ginsburg's concern with sex discrimination. Justices holding generally conservative opinions form a majority on the Court, yet only in cases involving economics has it produced results favored by the right. On hot-button social issues, like abortion, Tushnet concludes, the Court's conservatives have fragmented, leaving Roe v. Wade in place and striking down laws criminalizing homosexual conduct. Tushnet believes that these results accord with the politics prevailing in the country as a whole, where economic conservatism is ascendant but Americans are moderately liberal on social issues. In this calm, unbiased study, Tushnet explains clearly how and why the Supreme Court reflects the nation's uneasy political consensus.
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Tushnet, a constitutional law professor, asserts that in a Supreme Court comprising a majority of justices appointed by Republican administrations, Rehnquist was the first to bring an extreme conservative perspective. He also asserts that despite arguments to the contrary, conservative justices have been just as activist as liberal justices, just headed in an opposite direction. Tushnet traces the rising judicial conservatism since the shift from Goldwater's to Reagan's influence on the Republican Party, through the administrations of Nixon and Bush I and II. Tushnet explores how the split within the Republican Party--between arch conservatives who favor big business, small government, and demonstrate what some consider insensitivity on social issues, and moderates who, though just as pro-business, are more sensitive on social, racial, and human rights issues--is reflected in the perspectives of the Supreme Court justices and the decisions they render, and the impact the overall conservative shift will have on the court in the future, as Rehnquist's retirement is considered imminent. Vernon Ford
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