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Well-written, but superficial polemic
on August 30, 2000
Whether you are liberal or conservative, Max Boot's "Out of Order" is likely to get you mad. Mad because the judicial system is painted as so-out-of-control, or mad because you think Boot is a conservative hack (who writes for the Wall Street Journal's editorial pages).
What Boot has done, and done effectively, is gather horrible anecdote after horrible anecdote, organize them in general categories like corrupt judges, incompetent judges, and so on. The picture that he paints is pretty grim: if a judge isn't on the take, he or she might be plain weak, stupid, arrogant, or deluded.
But how seriously are we to take Boot's thesis? While the individual cases that he discusses are (to varying degrees) disturbing, the central problem with this book lies in the fact that the reader is supposed to evaluate a judge based on one case, out of thousands or more that the judge might see in his or her career.
At the same time, Boot strangely ignores some obvious targets for those who would like to criticize the judiciary. For example, Judge Stephen Reinhardt (a federal appeals judge in California) is usually the posterchild for judicial activism: he is one of the judges most-often reversed by the Supreme Court. Yet, Judge Reinhardt rates only one mention, and it is actually praise from Boot. Now, I'm not suggesting necessarily that Boot would think that Reinhardt is worthy of criticism (though I think it fairly obvious, given their respective ideologies), but there is a history and pattern of judicial opinions from which one could draw definite conclusions.
As other reviewers have noted, this is a critical weakness of "Out of Order." It's a collection of anecdotes, almost a survey of judges across the country, but not very deep in its scope.