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65 of 68 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Better Than Toobin
"The Roberts Court" is a well-written book that analyzes the most important cases decided by the Supreme Court since John Roberts became Chief Justice in 2005. Coyle focuses on four cases in great depth (the Seattle and Louisville school integration case, D.C. v. Heller, Citizens United, and the Affordable Care Act case), but still spends considerable time discussing...
Published 16 months ago by Samuel J. Sharp

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Roberts and his Gang
A fairly good book. However, much of this is too much inside baseball. The average non-lawyer will find this book too mired in every litigation move and too involved with every personality touching the cases discussed.
Published 13 months ago by Reader 47


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65 of 68 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Better Than Toobin, May 7, 2013
This review is from: The Roberts Court: The Struggle for the Constitution (Hardcover)
"The Roberts Court" is a well-written book that analyzes the most important cases decided by the Supreme Court since John Roberts became Chief Justice in 2005. Coyle focuses on four cases in great depth (the Seattle and Louisville school integration case, D.C. v. Heller, Citizens United, and the Affordable Care Act case), but still spends considerable time discussing other areas of law (e.g. death penalty, First Amendment, standing to sue) that the Court has meaningfully addressed. Coyle's analysis is not scholarly, but her clear writing and eye for detail make this a very readable and informative book.

The strength of the book is Coyle's impressive research on the parties behind the Court's major cases. Whereas as Toobin in "The Nine" and "The Oath" writes mostly about the justices, Coyle instead reveals the back stories on the litigants and their lawyers for the four cases she discusses at length. The result is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at just how demanding and strategic Supreme Court litigation can be.

Coyle, unlike Toobin, is also capable of keeping her personal opinions on the Court out of focus. There's no doubt Coyle is less than impressed with the Court's conservative-majority decisions, but her bias does not distract too much from her otherwise excellent reporting. She relishes in portraying the conservative justices as aggressive judicial activists, but she also avoids oversimplifying by pausing to recognize those instances, such as Alito's lone dissents in the Snyder and Stevens First Amendment cases, in which the justices do not act in rigid 5-4 ideological camps. Her decision early in the book to describe the two wings of the Court as "conservative" and "moderate-liberal" is unnecessarily provocative, but despite her nomenclature her treatment of Court's decisions is mostly fair.

I strongly recommend this book to those interested in the Supreme Court. It is not nearly as partisan as Toobin's "The Oath," and Coyle's extensive interviews provide material not available in other books about the Court.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great insight from a reporter deeply connected to the Supreme Court, May 12, 2013
This review is from: The Roberts Court: The Struggle for the Constitution (Hardcover)
Let me just say, Marcia Coyle is no dilettante. She is a hardcore reporter on the Supreme Court for PBS's "News Hour" and from my experience lobbying Capitol Hill from 1995 to 2003 I can tell you there's not many other reporters who report as well or as in-depth as well as she does. This is Coyle's first book and there's a reason for that; she wanted to really contemplate and reason what was going on in the Roberts Court and deliver a book-length summary of her experiences. What results is "The Roberts Court", probably the most well researched and well reasoned assessment of the Roberts Court so far. Coyle has been reporting on the Supreme Court for many years and has developed and fostered relationships not just with Supreme Court members, but more importantly their clerks and others close to the Court, which allows her to report with authority and intimacy. "The Roberts Court" is not a full assessment of Chief Justice Roberts's tenure on the Court, but rather an assessment of the most important rulings the Roberts's Court has delivered: rulings on: handguns (District of Columbia v. Heller, 128 S. Ct. 2783); Federal Elections law (United Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission 558 U.S. 310); healthcare (the Affordable Care Health Act), and on race (PICS v. Seattle, 551 U.S. 701). Coyle is an astute observer of the court and focuses on the Court's shift to the right following Justice O'Connor's resignation and her replacement by Justice Alito. The Court had been right leaning under Chief Justice Rehnquist but that shift became more pronounced upon his death the replacement by Chief Justice Roberts, but as Coyle points out there really is no "liberal bloc" or "conservative bloc" as many justices within a particular political spectrum or view of interpreting the Constitution has the same take on a ruling, which results in many separate opinions on any given ruling. The Justices who did speak with Coyle still insist that politics doesn't enter into their equation when deliberating. And in "The Roberts Court" Coyle points out that more than 50% of the rulings are 6-3, 7-2, or more, which points to the consensus that Chief Justice Roberts has been seeking to achieve. What Coyle is interested in are those 5-4 rulings that expose a divided and uncertain Supreme Court and the struggle within for the meaning in those areas, and the insight she provides is quite enlightening. What shows forth is a Court seeking to provide guidance as our society and our norms are shifting, changing, and evolving, and which are reflective of our changed views on previous case law. While wishing to uphold stare decisis there is a desire to tweak and subtly change case law, sometimes quite narrowly, and sometimes more broadly. In most of these closely decided cases the rulings have equally infuriated both the left and the right which on balance says the Supreme Court probably got it right.

Coyle is among the best reporters and authors covering the Supreme Court as she explains the whole process of how cases get to the Supreme Court that lay people can understand. The Supreme Court doesn't "have" to take a case; it's their call to take or ignore cases, and to a certain extent Justices grant certiorari to specific cases so as to challenge existing laws and hopefully overturn them or to give guidance to lower courts on how those laws can be challenged in the future. The cases Coyle focuses on were certainly contentious and she points out how conscious the Justices were about the long term implications in these rulings as they were crafting their rulings. Surprisingly for such a relatively new and young Supreme Court, there was little rancor of bad blood between the Justices as they worked through these cases. That itself is quite interesting and Coyle points out quite correctly how young a court this is and that in five years the Supreme Court has added four new Justices...a most sweeping change in a short span of time, and one that affects interpersonal relationships and rulings. It also marks a generational shift that will become more pronounced in coming years as the five most tenured Justices (at almost 20 years of service or more) retire or pass from the scene. If you're interested in the Supreme Court forget Toobin's The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court or O'Connor's Out of Order: Stories from the History of the Supreme Court...THIS is the book you should be reading!
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still trying to figure out the Roberts Court, June 17, 2013
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This review is from: The Roberts Court: The Struggle for the Constitution (Hardcover)
Well, here we are in the 7th term of the Roberts Court and we are still grappling with what exactly does it mean. I think this substantial book by Marcia Coyle should materially assist both experienced Court watchers as well as those newer to the game. The author has long covered the Court and won awards for her legal reporting. While the book focuses upon four of the most contentious issues in recent constitutional law--race based school assignments, the second amendment and guns, campaign finance, and the explosive Obamacare decision--it is important to bear some points in mind. Typically 50% of Court decisions are unanimous; only the really tough issues get to the Court; lineups of justices can change from case to case (one's opponent today is an ally tomorrow); substantial personnel changes have transpired; and the Court rarely takes a case to affirm a lower court decision, 70-75% of which it reverses. That said, Coyle demonstrates that plenty of judicial fireworks have erupted within the Roberts court.

Coyle's approach has much to commend it. For example, she has relied extensively upon interviews rather than just published accounts. She discusses effectively just how important oral argument is, as well as how various of the Justices prepare for it. And especially important, she alerts us to how various interest groups seek to influence the Court, not only by organizing test cases, but also increasingly by filing amicus briefs arguing their individual perspectives and issues. She recounts how 150 amicus briefs were filed in the Obamacare case, and illustrates how some Justices rely or ignore them in their decision-making process.

A key point raised by many students of the Court is whether the Chief has lived up to his promises to the Senate to promote decisions that relied upon and did not repudiate precedent, and that decisions would be as minimal and narrow as possible. Many Court scholars, such as Geoffrey Stone of the University of Chicago law school, have persuasively argued that Roberts has broken these promises repeatedly. Coyle's calm and reasoned analysis would seem to support these critics. What does this issue tell us about the effectiveness or lack of effectiveness of confirmation hearings? Moreover, Coyle pays particular attention to the judicial philosophies of some of the Justices which is quite helpful.

It is often said that it is a new Court every time a new Justice is added. Coyle certainly supports this position. Especially as regards Justice Alito's joining the Court, in place of Sandra Day O'Connor. Who sits in the chair can make an enormous difference in judicial outcomes. But by focusing on who argues and prepares cases for argument, Coyle illustrates that advocate skills and philosophy of preparation also play vital roles in the process. Finally, Coyle leaves us with much to think about in terms of whether the Court reaches out for issues not really raised by the parties, and whether it places much reliance at all on precedent.

It is the rare book on the Court that explains important legal concepts in language the general informed reader can grasp--this is one of those books. Coyle's focus is upon the individuals involved in the process, and the process, not erudite academic analysis of opaque legal theories, though there is some of this included for the legally knowledgeable reader. The author has include some notes and a good bibliography; and included is a handy concise analysis of some key decisions. She also has included 356 pages of superior analysis of this challenging topic.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Supreme Court books are always fascinating, June 13, 2013
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A regular reporter of the Supreme Court, she attends its sessions and knows the judges. Her history of the cases described in the book are well written and easy to follow. We get to know the lawyers, the judges and the Government involvement. Then when the decision is presented, she analyzes it well and presents her thoughts on the consequences. I have changed my opinion of the Roberts Court and now have a wait and see attitude and a greater respect for their opinions. Well written.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Required reading for any undergraduate or graduate student!, June 29, 2013
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This review is from: The Roberts Court: The Struggle for the Constitution (Hardcover)
I have taught Education Law to Graduate Education Students for more than 30 years. Marcia Coyle has provided us with an essential resource for undergraduate and graduate students preparing for careers in the classroom Not only does this text give you a balanced view of the role of SCOTUS and its impact on future policy decisions at the legislative and local government levels, it allows the non-lawyer to understand crucial issues in our society. Required reading in any serious course covering education law. I have followed Marcia Coyle and Linda Greenhouse for many years, this is the best of all their writings.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars comprehensive yet readable, June 10, 2013
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This review is from: The Roberts Court: The Struggle for the Constitution (Hardcover)
As a non lawyer I found this to be readable and easily so. The book is divided into sections dealing with Race, guns, speech, etc and recent decisions effecting each magisterium. There is a great story to be told in each section as she involves the plaintiffs and the defense lawyers. Some of the stories are as interesting as the actual outcome of the decisions by the court.
One of the best books I have read this year!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Judgement Day at the Supreme Court, July 30, 2014
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This review is from: The Roberts Court: The Struggle for the Constitution (Hardcover)
In her Acknowledgements at the end of The Roberts Court: The Struggle For the Constitution, Marcia Coyle relates the thoughts of the former Supreme Court Justice, Harry Blackmun, who "did not think the Supreme Court should be a great mystery to the American people. Coyle, a twenty-six year Supreme Court journalist, does a terrific job in enlightening the reader about the court and more specifically, the years which Chief Justice has ruled.

Particular attention is paid to four major decisions. In the first case, Parents v. Seattle School District and Meredith v. Jefferson Co. Board of Education, the court confronts the issue of the use of race as a means of assigning students to specific schools. The second case, District of Columbia v. Heller, confronts the issue of whether an individual has a right "to keep and bear arms" for self-defense. In the third decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the court deliberates as to whether the government can prohibit corporations, labor unions, or associations from monetary involvement in political campaigns. The final case, National Federation of Independent Business et al. v. Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, et Affordable Care Act is constitutional.

Marcia Coyle provides a detailed account in each case which reveals the historical events leading up to them, the thinking of the various justices, and how the final outcome is rendered. In her treatment of the seven years of the Roberts court, she covers the departure of three justices with their subsequent replacements.

For those wishing a more in depth assessment of the current Supreme Court, The Roberts Court: The Struggle for the Constitution has to be a MUST read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent reporting of complex issues, December 4, 2013
This review is from: The Roberts Court: The Struggle for the Constitution (Hardcover)
This is a book of reportage, not academic research. And it is very good reportage. Author Marcia Coyle picks 4 recent 5-4 decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. Those cases involve racial diversity in public schools, the Second Amendment's right to bear arms, corporate political campaign expenditures, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare). She carefully describes the legal setting and technical terms so that most readers will get the idea if not the nuance. She even repeats some of this information, for instance to remind readers of the role of the U.S. Solicitor General. She provides enough background so that the reader understands why these cases are important, what led up to them, the issues at stake, and the import of the decision.

She uses these cases to illustrate the philosophical divides within the court. Yes, there is a liberal/conservative divide, but it is much more complex than that, and she describes the varying coalitions that can allow the court to become increasingly protective of First Amendment speech and less protective of Fourth Amendment search and seizure rights. She is critical of the Court's recent tendency to silently overrule the holdings of prior cases, or to narrow those holdings to the point of irrelevance.

In addition to the cases themselves, she gives us the interplay among the justices. She discusses how each resignation and appointment of a new justice changes the way all of them relate. This discussion includes quotes from the justices themselves about the effect of a newcomer or of a particular resignation.

As part of her reporter's style, she lets the participants speak in their own voices and that helps keep the book objective. She seems to have interviewed nearly everyone involved in these cases, from most if not all of the justices, to many of their law clerks, to the attorneys who argued the cases, to the parties who started the cases in the first place. This material is almost always interesting, and gives an immediacy to the text that a bare analysis of the court's work would not do.

Given that author Marcia Coyle writes for the National Law Journal and is a panelist on PBS's News Hour, I expected a liberal bias. And I am a liberal myself. The bias is there, but for the most part she keeps it well leashed. As one example, she consistently refers to the "conservative" and the "moderate-liberal" wings of the court. That oversimplifies the positions of most of the justices, and also implies an absence of moderation in the conservative wing. Additionally, she confuses different types of conservatism. For example, she expresses surprise that the conservative Rehnquist supported a Congressional ban on corporate expenditures in election campaigns. Rehnquist was simply showing deference to the legislature, a profoundly conservative outlook. As she points out elsewhere in her book Roberts, Alito and Kennedy will actively look for ways to overturn legislation and precedent.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the court or government in general.

(edited for grammar)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Race, Guns, Campaign Finance, Health Care, October 16, 2013
This review is from: The Roberts Court: The Struggle for the Constitution (Hardcover)
The book attempts to focus on four major issues that Coyle considers the essence of the Roberts Court to date: Race, Guns, Campaign Finance, and Health Care. A major detriment of the book is the organization which attempts to fit the four categories of the introduction into a chronological order mixed with other cases. It doesn't work as it seems each case belongs in a different section. The book improves greatly if each case is read in its own context.
It does require working through lots of preliminary cases in both lower courts and prior SC cases. The significance of the four major issues is well buried in background minutia and other issues.

There are very informative depictions of the background of each justice including confirmation hearings, as well as of lawyers who argue the cases. In the light of recent decisions she is not convincing in citing a swing to the right from the previous Rehnquist Court. She characterizes the Court as the "Kennedy Court" as Justice Kennedy replaced O'Connell as the swing vote between the polarized liberal and conservative justices.

There's very even handed respectful presentation of both sides in Affirmative Action and discrimination cases. Coyle expects the divided opinions on race issues will continue. On the issue of gun control she distinguishes between social value of gun control and attack on the Bill of Rights guarantee of freedom from government interference with individual rights. Campaign Finance is also covered from each side, especially with regard to judicial view of corporations. Emphasis is on the 'Citizens United' case. There's references to 'Hilary:The Movie' and Grishom's 'The Appeal.' It's interesting to hear the justices debate the awkwardness of PACs. The Health Care issue is given a suspenseful treatment, culminating in Roberts' peculiar substitution of a penalty as a tax to uphold the AFC insurance mandate. Interspersed is Mass. v. EPA, the first global warming case, Texas redistricting and many others. [p233. What the heck is the two-moot-case rule?]

There's a good even handed introduction to the judicial philosophies of originalism, strict and loose construction, fundamentalism, majoritarianism and minimalism. She goes back in history to cite Scalia referring to Brennan as the most influential justice of the last century and a comparison of Roberts' philosophy to the judicial restraint of Harlan and Frankfurter and his style to that of John Marshall..

Coyle shows impressive knowledge and research which she manages to pass to the reader only to a very limited extent. The extensive scope of the book necessitates a watering down of each issue. The book provides a nice appendix that summarizes many significant cases but, as with the text, the summaries are just a bit too short to be very informative.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Roberts and his Gang, August 10, 2013
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This review is from: The Roberts Court: The Struggle for the Constitution (Hardcover)
A fairly good book. However, much of this is too much inside baseball. The average non-lawyer will find this book too mired in every litigation move and too involved with every personality touching the cases discussed.
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The Roberts Court: The Struggle for the Constitution
The Roberts Court: The Struggle for the Constitution by Marcia Coyle (Hardcover - May 7, 2013)
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