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Uncertain Justice: The Roberts Court and the Constitution Hardcover – June 3, 2014

4.3 out of 5 stars 91 customer reviews

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The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin
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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

“At once accessible and erudite, the book provides an introduction to the high court's key decisions for general readers, while at the same time offering thoughtful analysis that will interest lawyers and Court watchers…. Addressing hot-button topics such as equal protection, campaign finance, and executive power, the authors push readers to move past bumper-sticker reactions and recognize the complexity of the legal issues involved.” ―California Lawyer

“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

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (June 3, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805099093
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805099096
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (91 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #168,579 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Hardcover
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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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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