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American Original: The Life and Constitution of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia Hardcover – November 10, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
The combative personality of conservative judicial firebrand Antonin Scalia comes through more clearly than his philosophy in this dense biography. USA Today legal affairs reporter Biskupic (Sandra Day O'Connor) notes Scalia's contemptuous chin-flicking at the media and relaxed attitude toward torture and other controversies, but focuses on his Supreme Court tenure through a thematic survey of prominent cases. What fitfully emerges, apart from a man confident in his views, hot in his rhetoric, is his hostility to affirmative action, abortion rights and the 'homosexual agenda' and a fondness for states' rights, executive branch authority and gun-owners' rights, all justified by an originalist interpretation that hews to the bare text of the Constitution as its authors allegedly understood it. Biskupic's critical approach highlights inconsistencies in Scalia's reasoning, particularly when he went against his usual states' rights position in the Bush v. Gore decision, which settled the 2000 presidential election. But the complex, murky vagaries of Supreme Court case law are not the best format for elucidating a judicial philosophy; Biskupic gives a full account of this influential figure's doctrinaire conservatism, but the originalist doctrine itself is harder to discern. 8 pages of b&w illus. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Legal affairs reporter Biskupic brings 20 years’ experience and insight to providing a broad context to this profile of the most prominent and controversial of the current Supreme Court justices. Bright, articulate, and often confrontational, Scalia had promoted his concept of originalism, interpreting the Constitution from the original perspective of the Founding Fathers rather than as a living document adapting to contemporary circumstances. Initially, Scalia was limited to presenting his cogent and often bombastic arguments from a minority dissenter’s view, but with the appointment of conservative John Roberts as chief, some 20 years into his tenure Scalia now finds himself more often on the majority side. Yet his persona continues to mark him as an outsider. Biskupic examines Scalia’s life, including how he has come to hold his views. This is a must-read for those interested in the impact of a singular personality on our highest court—and to what end, only time will tell. --Vernon Ford
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Some of her commentary skews left, but her interjections prevent the book from seeming too fawning. She does a brilliant job of conveying Scalia's hold on America without succumbing to all of his charms.
The book is not a complete "hit" piece (hence the 2 starts) on Mr. Scalia, but it is very close. It is obvious that Ms. Biskupic disagrees with most of the positions that Mr. Scalia (and other conservatives) hold and she continually expounds on how Mr. Scalia is not in sync with where the country should be headed. As an example, on page 162 regarding Robert Bork and his resignation from the D.C. Circuit, Ms. Biskupic writes, "When Bork resigned, the Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe, who had opposed his nomination, said, 'The right wing lost the constitutional referendum of 1987. That is what galls them [conservatives] most about the loss of Robert Bork. Not pity for a man who long wanted to serve on the Court and whose credentials were so superb. It is pity for an agenda that was dramatically, decisively repudiated.'" This comment seems a bit extreme considering the “agenda” of President’s George H.W. Bush (41) in 1988 and George W. Bush (43) in 2000.
On page 184, where she is writing on race relations, Ms. Biskupic says, "(Mr. Scalia) challenged the long-standing argument that special protection should be given to the disenfranchised and disadvantaged. In that view, some critics argued, he was abandoning the core responsibilities of courts in America because the neutral rules he advocated could not bring about racial equality." Again, Ms. Biskupic is using the thoughts and concerns of others to express her agenda. Many people believe that it is not a court's responsibility to bring about racial equality or any other change in society. Courts are not supposed to make laws - they are supposed to interpret them.
On page 189, Ms. Biskupic writes, "...news reports of the event [Scalia’s 1996 appearance before the Christian Legal Society] were grist for critics who thought that, in a nation founded on the separation of church and state, Scalia had gone too far in his personal identification with religious believers." Ms. Biskupic is one of many who propagate the lie that the United States was “founded on the separation of church and state.” This phrase is not included in any of our founding documents, so it’s completely untrue to say the U.S. is founded on the separation of church and state.
Also on page 189, Ms. Biskupic writes, "[American Lawyer magazine columnist Stuart Taylor] accused Scalia of having a 'persecution complex.' [Mr. Taylor] referred to Scalia's 'flirtation with Christian victimology' and wrote that the justice was parroting unthinkingly 'the kind of nonsense that is often heard from the likes of [television evangelist] Pat Robertson and [the conservative commentator] Patrick Buchanan.'" It’s hard to find a more condescending phrase than “parroting unthinkingly”. It’s just a guess on my part, but I believe that Ms. Biskupic was very happy to include the quote from Mr. Taylor because it summarizes her thoughts on Christian “nonsense”.
As noted in the examples above and on page after page in American Original, Ms. Biskupic continually quotes people who disagree with Mr. Scalia's "originalist" Constitutional view and his judicial decisions. Knowing that the author has an anti-Scalia bias before reading the book will make reading American Original a little easier to stomach, but the book could have been so much better if it had been written by an author without such an obvious agenda.