Jeffrey Toobin is a staff writer at The New Yorker, senior legal analyst at CNN, and the bestselling author of The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court, The Nine, Too Close to Call, A Vast Conspiracy, The Run of His Life and Opening Arguments. A magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, he lives with his family in New York.
Over the years any number of best selling books have been written about the U.S. Supreme Court. If you are an avid reader like myself then you have probably read a few of them. Of all of the books I have read on this subject I found Jeffrey Toobin's new offering "The Nine: Inside The Secret World of the Supreme Court" to be among the very best. As senior legal analyst for CNN and a staff writer for "The New Yorker" Jeffrey Toobin is uniquely qualified to tackle a topic that most Americans know precious little about and frankly find a bit mysterious. Like peeling the skin from an onion Toobin succeeds in revealing just who these justices are and how they have evolved over time. It is a fascinating study.
One notion that "The Nine" certainly reinforces is the conventional wisdom that says there really is no way of predicting how a judge is going to vote on controversial issues after receiving a lifetime appointment to the United States Supreme Court. While it seems that majority of justices remain true to their philosophies after being appointed to the Court, a fairly significant percentage of appointees veer off in totally unexpected directions. Throughout "The Nine" Jeffrey Toobin introduces us to the men and women who have served on the Court over the past two decades. Depending on your point of view you will find some of the justices extremely likeable and others enigmatic. You will also learn who the reliable liberal and conservative votes are and who tends to occupy the center. And Jeffrey Toobin spotlights a number of controversial 5-4 cases where those 1 or 2 "swing" votes would make all the difference.
It is quite apparent that Jeffrey Toobin is a huge fan of the recently retired justice Sandra Day O'Connor.Read more ›
The last several years have delivered a rich harvest of outstanding studies of the Supreme Court. In addition to some highly technical works by political scientists, journalists have contributed studies of remarkable value and insight. I am thinking here of Greenburg's incisive "Supreme Conflict"; Greenhouse's biography of Justice Blackmun; and Biskupic's perceptive study of Justice O'Connor to name a few (not to mention Jeffrey Rosen -- who is a George Washington law professor but who also writes for the popular press and presents PBS programs as well). The good fortune of we "Court watchers" continues in this exceptionally discerning study by Jeffrey Toobin who writes for the "New Yorker" among other publications.
Toobin covers roughtly the period of 1992 through the 2006-07 term of the Court. His focus is similar to that of Jan Crawford Greenburg in "Supreme Conflict": the frustration of conservatives at their inability to secure a Court that would implement their agenda on abortion, public support of religion, and diminution of federalism despite a conservative majority on the Court. But as both books so well explain, all that changed with the coming of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito--as some recent decisions which Toobin discusses in his final chapters indicate. What is interesting is that the same members made up the Court between 1994 and 2005; yet the dynamics of decisionmaking changed dramatically.
To trace this evolution, Toobin discusses the Federalist Society; the Thomas nomination; the pragmatism of Justice O'Connor; Jay Sekulow and his "American Center for Law and Justice";and the perplexing Clinton White House nominations of Justices Ginsburg and Breyer.Read more ›
As we move toward the 2008 elections, this book sheds light on a vital arm of our government, and important issues framing the debates. Yes, Toobin may be showing his liberal leanings, but is this so unsettling in our free-speaking democratic society? What Toobin does well -- and is so qualified to do so -- is to share his wealth of knowledge and perspective on that all-important yet all-too-secretive government branch. He succeeds in enlightening us -- and probably, regarding some aspects, the justices themselves -- on several influential developments. One, as pointed out by a previous reviewer, being the courts growing dependence on decisions made abroad. The book is readable and informative...take the liberal leanings with a grain of salt..
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The book is decent, but I just thought that the author spent too much time describing "sneering" conservatives, and not really explaining what they stand for. The moderates on the court are always rational, and the conservatives are primitive and spend a lot of time sneering, etc. This is a bit unfair (I am willing to bet that Scalia is more intelligent and more interesting and amusing than the author states).
I also think Toobin short-shrifts some of the liberal negatives. Clinton-appointee Ginsburg once said that she wanted to integrate prisons, so that men and women prisoners would be housed together, because this would force men to understand women better, etc. This type of utopianism is not mentioned in the book (it is the mirror of the conservative attempt to remake America along the lines of the Christian Right).
I also think that in his discussion of international law, he fails to really present the conservative opposition to using foreign law in the U.S. Our legal system is based on Britain's. I highly doubt for instance, that we would want to import legal notions from Latin America and Europe, where for instance, the Code Napoleon holds sway. In Mexico or Brazil or France or Italy, the state is considered right, and the defendant in a criminal case has the burden of proof to show that he is innocent (!). This would stand our British system on its head (do the liberal justices really want to use such precedents ?). In France, the "terror csar" can hold anyone for 55 hours without charges, just by signing a piece of paper. Even the British have gone a LONG way toward an all-powerful state, and the British have even talked about doing away with trial by jury in criminal cases. I hardly think we want that. And yet, this huge issue is not mentioned in the book.Read more ›