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Uncertain Justice: The Roberts Court and the Constitution [Kindle Edition]

Laurence Tribe , Joshua Matz
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)

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Book Description

With the Supreme Court more influential than ever, this eye-opening book tells the story of how the Roberts Court is shaking the foundation of our nation’s laws

From Citizens United to its momentous rulings regarding Obamacare and gay marriage, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts has profoundly affected American life. Yet the court remains a mysterious institution, and the motivations of the nine men and women who serve for life are often obscure. Now, in Uncertain Justice, Laurence Tribe and Joshua Matz show the surprising extent to which the Roberts Court is revising the meaning of our Constitution.

This essential book arrives at a make-or-break moment for the nation and the court. Political gridlock, cultural change, and technological progress mean that the court’s decisions on key topics—including free speech, privacy, voting rights, and presidential power—could be uniquely durable. Acutely aware of their opportunity, the justices are rewriting critical aspects of constitutional law and redrawing the ground rules of American government. Tribe—one of the country’s leading constitutional lawyers—and Matz dig deeply into the court’s recent rulings, stepping beyond tired debates over judicial “activism” to draw out hidden meanings and silent battles. The undercurrents they reveal suggest a strikingly different vision for the future of our country, one that is sure to be hotly debated.

Filled with original insights and compelling human stories, Uncertain Justice illuminates the most colorful story of all—how the Supreme Court and the Constitution frame the way we live.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Much has already been written about the composition of the Supreme Court, the division between the liberals and the conservatives, and those justices who are for judicial restraint versus those who are activists. Legal scholar Tribe and legal writer Matz argue that all the justices are activists to a certain extent and in certain areas of constitutional law. Instead of the usual analysis of the Supreme Court, Tribe and Matz present a more nuanced look at how the court under Chief Justice Roberts has arrived at momentous decisions from Citizens United to support for Obamacare. They offer a brief sketch of each justice’s background, journey to the court, temperament, and major opinions. They explore the differences in political principles, philosophical perspectives, and personalities, with various justices brought to the fore on particular decisions. They focus on specific issues of equality of race, gender, and sexual orientation as seen through decisions on affirmative action, voting rights, and marriage laws as well as health care, campaign finance, gun rights, presidential power, and privacy in this insightful perspective on the Supreme Court. --Vanessa Bush


"Tribe and Matz set out to portray the Roberts court in what they see as its messy complexity. It is no doubt difficult to write with clarity about uncertainty, but Tribe and Matz largely succeed. Surveying a shifting legal landscape, they offer crisp accounts of key cases."—The New York Times Book Review

"Well-written and highly readable…. The strength of the book is its painstaking explanation of all sides of the critical cases, giving full voice and weight to conservative and liberal views alike…. The common-sense tone that prevails in most of the book is a tribute to the mastery of the Supreme Court by Tribe, a keen observer of the justices and of constitutional law for more than four decades."—The Washington Post

"Full of bright and unconventional wisdom… Rejecting tiresome conventions of court reporting — liberals vs. conservatives, restraint vs. activism — the authors bring fresh insight to the court's work."—The Los Angeles Times

"An engaging and accessible history of the Court’s major decisions … [Tribe is] among this nation’s most sophisticated thinkers about constitutional law."—New York Review of Books

"Marvelous…Tribe and Matz’s insights are illuminating…. [They] offer well-crafted overviews of key cases decided by the Roberts Court … [and] chart the Supreme Court’s conservative path, clarifying complex cases in accessible terms."—The Chicago Tribune

"Tribe is a particularly effective messenger… [and] is among the nation’s most celebrated legal scholars…. By giving the Justices their due, this book reminds us what it really means to respect the Constitution and its mission." —The Los Angeles Review of Books

"A well-researched, unsettling investigation of recent trends in the nation’s highest court… A near-forensic dissection of the court's work under Roberts ... Many of their conclusions will be eye-openers."—Kirkus Reviews

"[An] insightful perspective on the Supreme Court… [and a] nuanced look at how the court under Chief Justice Roberts has arrived at momentous decisions from Citizens United to support for Obamacare."—Booklist

"Laurence Tribe and Joshua Matz have produced a brilliantly layered account of the Roberts Court. Filled with memorable stories and striking references to literature, baseball and popular culture, this book is a joy to read from start to finish—an irresistible narrative that will delight the general public as well as journalists and scholars."—Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of Team of Rivals and The Bully Pulpit

"Laurence Tribe, the foremost constitutional scholar and advocate of his generation, and Joshua Matz have written a brilliantly insightful and engaging account of the Roberts Court. Relentlessly fair-minded in its judgments about the justices and their work, Uncertain Justice is an indispensable guide to the Court’s recent history and, more importantly, to its future."—Jeffrey Toobin, author of The Nine and Senior Legal Analyst, CNN

"Uncertain Justice is a fascinating, penetrating, and highly readable analysis of the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence. Anyone who aspires to understand how and in what ways the Court is influencing our lives and our laws will want to read this superb and evenhanded book."—Theodore B. Olson, U.S. Solicitor General for President George W. Bush

"No one knows the Supreme Court like Laurence Tribe, and no one brings its decisions to life like Tribe and Joshua Matz. Uncertain Justice is spellbinding—whether you care about gay marriage, health care, NSA surveillance, or gun control, this magnificent book will widen and deepen your understanding of our constitutional landscape."—Kathleen M. Sullivan, Dean, Stanford Law School (1999-2004)

"Uncertain Justice provides a uniquely valuable perspective on the often confusing swirl around the most divisive legal, social, and political issues of our time. Once I started reading it, I just could not stop."—Ron Klain, Chief of Staff, Vice Presidents Biden (2009-11) and Gore (1995-99)

"Uncertain Justice is must reading for anyone interested in the current unannounced agenda of the Supreme Court. Lucidly written and impeccably reasoned, this essential book documents the ways in which the Roberts Court has engaged in a wholesale revision of the Constitution."—Scott Turow, author of One L, Presumed Innocent, and Identical

"We need this book. It is a brilliant discussion of the murky, quirky, troubling, and uncertain Roberts Court. Written in simple, elegant prose for the general public, Uncertain Justice is the best explanation we have of how this Court reaches its most important decisions."—John Jay Osborn Jr., author of The Paper Chase

"Uncertain Justice offers a page-turning and accessible analysis of the Roberts Court and its individual justices. It illuminates the often sharp disagreements and occasionally surprising agreements that mark the Court’s performance. For those seeking a thoughtful, balanced, and fair-minded review of the Roberts Court, this is the book to read."—Geoffrey Stone, Dean, University of Chicago Law School (1987-94)

"Put simply, Uncertain Justice is a great book. Timely and important, it tells it like it is and captures the essence of the Court’s changing role in American life. It is an amazing piece of work."—Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., Jesse Climenko Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

Product Details

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
54 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars couldn't put it down June 4, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
When I started reading Uncertain Justice by Laurence Tribe and Joshua Matz, I didn’t know what I was in for. I’m not a lawyer but I knew that Tribe is a leading constitutional scholar and Matz a contributor to SCOTUSblog. So I expected an interesting analysis of the Roberts Court. What I got was much more. For the first time, through what has been a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining read, I gained a new appreciation of how to think about the issues that come before the Supreme Court. Yes, of course, I knew that Citizens United was about the freedom of speech, but I hadn’t considered that the Obamacare case was about liberty. And the authors’ take on gun rights was totally a surprise (I leave that to you, the reader, to discover for yourself). And like many (most??) amateur Court watchers (and even some professionals), I thought of the Court in simplistic terms: 4 liberals, 4 conservatives, and a swing vote. Not so! I even developed some (grudging) respect for the jurists I thought I disagreed with.

The other surprise was that the book is a page-turner. This derives from the unique way the authors develop each chapter. Starting with a reference point in popular culture, sports, or some item from the news, the reader is drawn into the story being told. Then, by laying out various threads to follow, the authors use almost a classic mystery-writer’s formula that get the reader to turn the page and follow the threads to their logical (and often surprising) conclusions. Each chapter reliably turns the same trick; I had to get to the end of each chapter before putting the book down for a break.

Another plus is the wealth of cocktail party knowledge I came away with.

I encourage others to read this book. You’ll come away with a greater appreciation about why and how the Court decided cases that affect all of our lives and what to expect in the coming years.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Addictive and Informative June 16, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This delightful, generous, jargon-free book treats controversy with clarity: selects key facts to outline the issues, paints three-dimensional portraits, not caricatures, of the justices, and ventures confidently into legal thickets, so those in the know will recognize the signposts, but newcomers won't be detoured or get lost. The writers' erudition, craft, and civic virtue lifts their work above most popular books about the law. Their work has the briskness but not the glibness of Malcolm Gladwell, the twin respect for the reader and the subject of Steven Jay Gould.

It surprised me but made sense to learn that Scalia is more traditionalist than originalist, Breyer more technocrat than liberal, Kagan more cautious than activist. But the focus of the book is on rulings, not personalities, and here the writers function at their peak. I raced through the passages that describe the novel and narrow definition of corruption that justifies Citizens United, the three-century patchwork of sources that supports the court's changed view of the 2nd Amendment, the libertarian faith in structural safeguards as guarantors of individual rights. The book explains exactly what all this means with elegance and fairness.

Those of us who consider the Roberts court lawless might wish the book focused more on precedent: how brazen it is, for example, in Citizens United to overturn a century of law in a 5-4 decision based on newly-minted theory; or acknowledged recent research that demonstrates the decisive role of personal prejudice in rulings by Republican-appointed judges. The day I write this, June 16, 2014, the New York Times has published a study showing they are far more likely to rule in favor of womens' rights if they themselves have daughters.
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AMAZING READ! June 3, 2014
This book has taught me so much about the supreme court. As someone who isn't that familiar with the legal system, I found this very easy to read and comprehend as this book does a tremendous job of applying past cases and issues and comparing them to more common situations, like baseball! It's very creative, extremely well written and I will DEFINITELY be on the look out for any future works from these two authors!
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant June 25, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Laurence Tribe is a brilliant constitutional scholar, but this book is targeted at the intelligent lay reader. It is *not* dumbed down, but it is not a law text-book; it is a brilliant and incisive analysis of the Roberts court, and it will, if nothing else, dispel much of what you think you know about the justices and provide context and deep understanding of the issues recently before the court.

Very highly recommended
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31 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I'm in the middle of reading it, but I can already give you my review. Tribe and collaborator Matz write beautifully. They make these complicated cases easy to read about for both lawyers and non-lawyers. However, I must agree with LA Times reviewer Jim Newton, author of a previous fine book on Earl Warren. Newton correctly argues that Tribe and Matz "pull their punches" when criticizing the Roberts Court, because Tribe litigates in front of it and Matz will be clerking for Justice Kennedy starting in the 2014 Oct. term. Progressive Tribe bends over backwards to lavishly praise Justice Kennedy, who many rightly criticize for his rather grandiose views and expansive prose. Tribe/Matz even see Clarence Thomas as a brilliant legal thinker. Tribe wrongly argues that people miss the "free speech" angle of Citizens United that the Court had to address, that speech is curtailed by campaign finance views. IMHO,Tribe is basically spouting anti-campaign finance reform Sen. GOP Leader Mitch McConnell's talking points. Tribe seems to think that lobbying and gerrymandering are much more serious contributors to congressional gridlock than the millions big donors can give for influence. I "respectfully dissent." Yes weak lobbying laws and gerrymandering contribute to polarization but unlimited money is the "800 lb. gorilla" in the room to which Citizens United just gave 800 more pounds. Tribe's description of the Roberts Court downplays political leanings and calls the Court "in transition" and at the cusp on every key issue. Sure, because it has a 5-4 makeup. More conservative or more liberal additions would tip the Court in a clearer direction. Elections count. "Umpire", LOL Roberts, right now, can only go incrementally in pushing his conservative agenda, but is trying his best to get there. Still, this book, by one of the best legal thinkers must be read.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars The Supreme Court is supreme, said the lawyer appearing before them.
Almost always lawyers pander to judges. One would think that this book does not. But, pander it does. I am a lawyer so I am too critical. Read more
Published 12 days ago by Charles Ntoeboom
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Haven't finished the book but it is excellent and very well written.
Published 15 days ago by N. Izumo
4.0 out of 5 stars De Jure chief justice
Good overview of the entire Roberts (or should I say Scalia?) court.
Published 16 days ago by boris jimski
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading
Insightful, and a bit scary
Published 17 days ago by ACutter
5.0 out of 5 stars This is an excellent book. It illustrates the current (and past)...
This is an excellent book. It illustrates the current (and past) direction(s) of the Court; and specifically, the Roberts' court. Read more
Published 18 days ago by Angus McTavish
5.0 out of 5 stars A thorough update on the Court's majority and minority stances ...
A thorough update on the Court's majority and minority stances on the important issues, with insight into the biases (dare we admit? Read more
Published 18 days ago by Cward
3.0 out of 5 stars I need to read more about the Supreme Court and ...
I need to read more about the Supreme Court and how it works before I can judge the accuracy of this book. After I read other books on the subject, I will reread this one.
Published 20 days ago by Natalie Norman Baer
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Read for the Common Man
This book was extremely enlightening. It should scare the hell out of any Independent American. To hell with left or right. Read more
Published 22 days ago by Doug MC
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Professor Tribe obviously knows his subject.
Published 26 days ago by Robert W. Thompson
3.0 out of 5 stars A big fan of the Obama appointees
To much time is spent on the opinions and actions of Sotomayer and Kagan, little attention given to Scalia, Thomas and Alieto. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Rick Mayo
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