49 of 57 people found the following review helpful
I read this book practically in one sitting -- which is saying something for a book about the last twenty years of the Supreme Court. I have some vocational and avocational interest in the subject: as a journalist, I covered many of the judicial nomination battles of the first George W. Bush term, though (as Greenburg points out) there were no Supreme Court nominations then. So, in the course of my work, I met some of the key players in Greenburg's account (including John Roberts when he was nominated the first time, for the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C.) and I think Greenburg has gotten everything right. And she does as good a job as anyone in explaining the chief mystery of the last couple of decades: how a Court with seven appointees of GOP Presidents could be as moderate as it was.
I see little or no evidence of political bias, left or right, in Greenburg's book. Her references to Justice David Souter as a disappointment and an example of poor staff work are clearly stated from the perspective of conservative activists, not necessarily as reflecting the author's views. In addition, Greenburg stays clear of another, subtler form of journalistic bias -- a bias in favor of people whom she knows and who have cooperated with her. Example: Greenburg clearly likes and admires Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and benefited from a lengthy interview with the retired Justice. However, she does not shy away from expressing a (well-deserved) criticism of Justice O'Connor -- that the Justice had no consistent vision of the law and decided cases one by one, almost by instinct and out of a vague sense of what would be "just."
This book is hard to put down, and one need not be a Supreme Court "junkie" to feel that way.
74 of 90 people found the following review helpful
This is just a terrific book on the recent Supreme Court. The author, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, currently is a correspondent for ABC News, and for many years covered the Court for the Chicago Tribune. The author develops a dual focus in her analysis. First, she looks at how certain key Justices were selected for nomination to the Court. Those Justices include Souter, Kennedy, Thomas, O'Connor, Scalia, Miers, Roberts and Alito. She also covers the Bork nomination. Particularly interesting in this regard, and the "struggle for control" of the Court she sees continually occurring, is the conservative paranoia that true believer conservatives only must be nominated by GOP Presidents, individuals who will unlike Souter, Blackmun, Kennedy, and O'Connor for example, never deviate from a firm conservative outlook no matter what seductive influences (such as the New York Times and the Georgetown cocktail circuit)impact upon them. The author well documents that the Federalist Society and other judicial conservative groups felt themselves continually betrayed as one after another Justice moved to a more moderate position despite having appeared to be a firmly-fixed Scalia/Thomas type conservative. The internal struggle in GOP White Houses with these groups and the process of selection itself are superbly discussed, based primarily it appears upon the author's extensive interviewing, the Blackmun papers, and documentation at various Presidential libraries (especially the Reagan facility).
The second focus of the book is equally fascinating. Here the author analyzes the struggle within the Court for dominance, the process of coalition building, the strategies of inter-Justice persuasion, and the role of Justice personality in the mix. Some very interesting suggestions emerge from this analysis. For example, Justice Thomas joining the Court had a critical impact in that his staunch conservatism moved Justice O'Connor toward the middle from her previously more conservative position due to her disagreements with him. Much like Joan Biskupic in her excellent biography of the Justice (also reviewed on Amazon), the author analyzes O'Connor's techniques of coalition building and how she adopted fluid and flexible tests in concurrences that would allow her to maximize her position as a "swing" justice. We also come to understand why Justice Kennedy has developed the reputation for being indecisive and in the habit of switching sides at the last minute. Some interesting background analysis of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito is included. But there is much more of great interest to digest in the author's incisive analysis of these intra-Court dynamics.
The book is based on solid research, but is not "academic" in that the author cites relatively few law review articles in her notes. One senses her solid grasp of the topic comes from extensive contact with the key players and a profound understanding of the processes involved in selection, more than from extensive published sources. If you are interested in the Supreme Court and American politics, this is a book that will "wow" you with its insights and perceptive analysis.
35 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on January 24, 2007
I just bought the book and finished it in a day. Greenburg has really done a very fine job providing a fascinating account of the Rehnquist and (so soon!) Roberts Courts. I won't spoil anything, but there is a lot of information previously undisclosed regarding the circumstances of O'Connor's and Rehnquist's retirements, the search for replacements, and the nominations of Roberts, Miers, and Alito. There are also segments dedicated to the other justices, and some interesting remarks on Bush v. Gore from Justices O'Connor and Kennedy.
Importantly, Greenburg has no discernable bias or agenda, and people of all political stripes will enjoy it. (Though conservatives may revel in the narrative a bit more given that they're the ones who have made progress on the court in the last year and a half with the coming of Roberts and Alito).
The best inside account of the Court since Woodward's famed "The Brethren." Greenburg's book does not focus extensively on legal doctrine, but instead looks at the political forces that shape the Court.
24 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Jan Crawford Greenburg traces the history of conservatives to re-shape the court beginning with President Reagan and moving through the confirmation of Justice Alito. The author obviously had access to a number of sources as well as the notes of Justice Blackmun. She is able to tell a complete narrative both inside the Supreme Court and inside the White House as candidates for nomination to the bench are debated, prepared, etc. She devotes more space to conservative administrations and justices but this seems due to the nature of the narrative she is attempting to construct rather than an attempt to slight anyone.
This book methodically traces the successes and failures of the nomination process. There were enough contentious and controversial proceedings to provide plenty of grist for the mill and plenty of behind the scenes details that display the thought processes going into each nomination. There is also a nice level of background information on the nominee so that you begin to see them as real people, and not just the shallow caricatures that the media typically portrays. Some may be disappointed by a relative lack of detail in the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings but I would say she hit it just about right. That widely publicized mess could fill an entire book and is not central to the story she is attempting to tell. She discusses it enough to make clear what a firestorm it was and then moves on.
Once each person makes it onto the court, she walks us through the impact that they had on the group dynamic. One of the most fascinating aspects of the book is how one justice may affect another to change that group dynamic. Once again, we are presented with justices as human beings with normal thoughts and emotions. Many of the images we hold of these people appear to be false and beyond that there is a good deal here worth knowing. Many people are pleased or unhappy with the Supreme Court based on whether they like the end result. But the justices actually have to consider the law and constitutionality of those issues and there is an underlying logic to their decisions that we often fail to consider. I may not agree with some of those decisions, but I would say that I understand the reason for some of them far better now than prior to reading Supreme Conflict.
As for flaws, the narrative occasionally loses focus when she delves into background situations. Also, at the end she seems to imply that the addition of Roberts and Alito constitute a "mission accomplished" for judicial conservatives. The truth is that we don't know how those two will vote over time and, in any case, they would still lack a clear conservative majority. Kennedy has long been a swing vote on the court and the four presumed conservatives would need him to form any sort of lasting majority. All in all, it seems premature to determine how this group will perform. Still, these are minor points that do little to mar an excellent book. I have already begun recommending it to friends and family and likewise offer my highest recommendation to Amazon readers.
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on February 28, 2007
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I closely followed the Supreme Court during the period covered by this book, principally from Reagan to Bush II. Ms. Greenburg describes the evolution of the Senate confirmation process (increasingly partisan as the Court became more political), the judicial philosophy (or lack thereof), personalities and interactions of the justices, and several major cases.
Going all the way back to Nixon, every Republican president had the goal of appointing "conservative" justices. In this context, "conservative" means a particular judicial (not political) philosophy. A "conservative" approach gives effect to the text and tradition of the Constitution, as contrasted with a "liberal" approach that believes in a living, evolving Constitution. Conservatives believe a living Constitution gives five unelected, life tenured LAWYERS the license to usurp legislative and executive powers reserved to those branches of government.
Ms. Greenburg examines how and why Republican presidents have failed to remake the Court, despite having appointed ten consecutive justices from Nixon through Bush I. It turns out there are a variety of reasons, including sloppy vetting, cronyism and political weakness, resulting in "moderates" like Blackmun (Nixon), Powell (Nixon), Stevens (Ford), O'Connor (Reagan), Kennedy (Reagan) and Souter (Bush I). The author believes Bush II may have figured out how to avoid those mistakes by appointing experienced circut court judges with proven track records, such as Roberts and Alito (although his attempt to nominate Miers runs counter to that theory).
Ms. Greenburg is an excellent writer, researcher and analyst. That her approach is fair and balanced is confirmed by the almost universally good reviews from political liberals and conservatives. This book is hightly recommended.
30 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on May 18, 2007
I was really disappointed in this book for its almost complete lack of scholarly thought on a serious topic.
The book's focus is almost exclusively on the gossip surrounding the politics of the selection process rather than providing a serious examination of any of the legal issues involved. While providing a mildly interesting glimpse at some personalities involved, this book is what I would expect if USA Today had a publishing house.
Greenburg uses cliched labels like "liberal," "moderate" and "conservative" instead of providing any actual analysis of each justice's jurisprudence. This is the type of "dumbing down" that you would expect from a network TV reporter like Greenberg who needs to summarize her report in 90 seconds as opposed to the thoughtful discussion you can expect from a serious journalist like Linda Greenhouse, whose "Becoming Justice Blackmun" is light years ahead of this book.
18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on January 30, 2007
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I've read a lot of books on the Supreme Court, and this definitely one of the best. Not since Bob Woodward's "The Brethren" has a book provided the true 'inside look' that Court watchers want. And what's great is that the majority of the book has very recently happened. Roberts' and Alito's hearings are still fresh, and here is Greenburg uncovering everything from behind the scenes.
One of the true gems of the book has to be the chapter on Clarence Thomas. Greenburg has done a lot as a journalist to show that Thomas truly has been one of the great minds on the Court, and not just the meek Scalia-follower most have thought him to be.
But what makes this book great is the way it's written. Greenburg makes longtime SC journalist Linda Greenhouse look like, well, not as great as the Times would care for (and if you check the footnotes on every "mistaken NY Times article," they're almost all by Greenhouse). Honestly, Greenburg writes in a way that is not only intelligible, but truly a delight to read. Unlike Greenhouse's disappointing "Becoming Justice Blackmun," Greenburg is able to discuss cases easily and interestingly. You don't have to be a regular SC fan, a lawyer, or even someone interested in law to enjoy this book. Greenburg has written it in such a way that anyone can understand everything going on, and anyone who picks it up will enjoy it.
I really can't wait until Greenburg is recognized as the best SC reporter out there, this book proves that she deserves it.
21 of 28 people found the following review helpful
I don't know who Greenburg's sources are, but this is a highly readable "behind the scenes" account of the political maneuvers that have influenced the selection of U.S. Supreme Court Justices from Reagan's appointees through the present. Her insights on Kennedy's jurisprudence and on O'Connor's, Roberts's, and Alito's confirmation hearings are particularly illuminating.
Greenburg is on less stable ground when it comes to the so-called "liberals." Only one chapter is devoted to Clinton's appointees, Ginsburg and Breyer, even though their selection can be seen as relative triumphs for the liberal to moderate vote that rejects the kind of judicial activism that radical conservatives like Scalia and Thomas uphold (and which Roberts and Alito tacitly support, unfortunately).
Greenburg also constantly reminds us that George H.W. Bush's appointment of David Souter is seen by many conservatives as one of the "biggest political blunders" by a Republican president in the twentieth century. While that assessment may ring true to conservatives, I would have liked Greenburg to analyze Souter's appointment and subsequent rulings more even-handedly. Souter, in fact, is a traditional New England Republican who doesn't believe in legislating religious and moral issues from the bench. In my estimation, it's not that Souter is or became "liberal" but rather that the Court has become, under Rehnquist and now under Roberts, especially conservative, even radically so.
Still, Greenburg's book is a great survey of recent Supreme Court history and necessary reading for anyone who continues to deny the influence of politics on the shaping of law in this country.
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
In "Supreme Conflict," ABC correspondent Jan Crawford Greenberg takes us to the front lines of the bitter twenty year culture war that has been tearing at the fabric of our country. She takes us behind the scenes into the Supreme Court, the Senate, and the White House to see the street battle for the soul of the highest court in the land. This extraordinary and irresistible narrative begins with the Rehnquist Court, through the failure of the "Rehnquist Revolution," and closes with the confirmation hearings of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alioto.
There has been no outsider closer than Greenberg to the titanic battles over the composition and direction of the US Supreme Court. And although she is a journalist, the scholarship that went into this book is of a higher caliber than many academic scholars achieve in writing about the law or about the Supreme Court. "Supreme Conflict" also has a human dimension that offers valuable, even if depressing, insights into the internal politics of the Supreme Court and the politics of the process by which nominees to that court are selected and confirmed.
There will be some surprises, even for those who follow the court closely. The picture of Justice Thomas as a blind follower of Justice Antonin Scalia, with whom he often votes, is completely different from reality. Notes made by Justice Harry Blackmun during discussions of issues among the justices make it clear that from day one Clarence Thomas staked out his own position on issues, even when all eight of his senior colleagues took the opposite position. Often it was Justice Thomas whose arguments won over Justice Scalia and Chief Justice Rehnquist -- and sometimes enough others for a majority.
This book also throws light on the decisions of a succession of Republican presidents, who repeatedly nominated people to the Supreme Court whose votes as justices turned out to be the opposite of what these presidents expected. Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Bush 41 all managed to appoint liberals at a time when they were committed to reverse the court's liberal path.
One of the sad aspects of studying history is discovering how often petty considerations influenced the direction of momentous events. That is one of the painful aspects of reading about the Supreme Court in "Supreme Conflict". This book reveals the struggles among politicians over the choosing and confirmation of Supreme Court nominees -- and the struggles within the High Court itself over the difficult and divisive issues that come before it. Perhaps the saddest thing in the book is that some "highly qualified" potential nominees for the Supreme Court "had not wanted their names considered" because the Senate confirmation process had become "too bitter and too vitriolic" and "they just didn't want any part of it."
"Supreme Conflict" is a major contribution to a general understanding of the way the Supreme Court works -- and the way politics works in selecting people to nominate to become justices. Author Jan Crawford Greenburg understands both liberal and conservative arguments within and about the High Court, and tries to get the reader to understand those arguments, rather than leading the reader to favor one argument or the other.
This is a book you will not be able to put down.
22 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on October 7, 2007
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I thought, considering the book's title and that this reporter touted her access to nine justices, that this would detail the inner dynamics and interpersonal relationships of the justices and their clerks, like The Brethren. Instead, it was a laborious and too-detailed factual account of process the Executive and Legislative Branches used to select this court.
I see strong bias on the part of the author, who as a reporter, hopes to keep "inside access." She veritably fawns over Alito, in an effort to ingratiate herself with him and his family while, in contrast, she trashes the reclusive Souter, and the presumably uncooperative Kennedy.
Only 20% of this book was worthwhile reading.