- Hardcover: 464 pages
- Publisher: Crown (September 4, 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9781524759902
- ISBN-13: 978-1524759902
- ASIN: 1524759902
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.5 x 9.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 21 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #10,948 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Most Dangerous Branch: Inside the Supreme Court's Assault on the Constitution Hardcover – September 4, 2018
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“If Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings have inspired you to dig deeper into the intricacies of the nation’s highest court, look no further than a new book devoted to the subject… Kaplan writes in an engaging fashion throughout this detailed book…The Most Dangerous Branch couldn’t be better.”
“Show[s] how the justices take and rule on cases that they have, in Kaplan’s view, no legitimate role in deciding, and on the basis of legal reasoning that only barely masks partisan goals. The high-profile 5-to-4 opinions Kaplan highlights are deserving targets.”
—The Washington Post
“Persuasively argu(es) that the court has lost its bearings. . . engaging, gossipy and often highly critical. . . [Kaplan] takes readers through a scathing tour of recent Supreme Court decisions. . . A passionately argued and credible indictment of the court.”
“Describe(s) the behind the scenes dealing that led to the appointment of the sitting Supreme Court . . . Presented at a level of granularity with which you may not be familiar. It makes for engaging, if not reassuring, reading.”
“Kaplan’s critique of judicial power will resonate with the court’s critics on both right and left.”’
–The Wall Street Journal
"Reminiscent of The Brethren…"
—The National Law Journal
“An informed discussion of a serious issue.”
“An amazing amount of reporting about conversations and politics inside the Court”
—Washington Free Beacon
—First Mondays podcast (in partnership with ScotusBlog)
"A fascinating book."
–CBS Morning News
“A fascinating look at the Court during one of its most important, and divisive, eras... a perfect primer for helping Americans understand how members of the court came to justify their excessive involvement in various controversial issues"
–The Christian Science Monitor
“David Kaplan has an inquiring mind and a lively style. He also has some incredible sources inside the Court who have helped him open a window on the inner workings of the most opaque branch of our government. At a moment when the Court’s future hangs in the balance because of the retirement of Justice Kennedy, this book is important, even urgent (and it has plenty of dish, too).”
author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition
“This is a book for our times. As the Supreme Court has become a focus of elections, confirmation battles and partisan decisions, The Most Dangerous Branch tells the story, in a compelling way, of the “triumphalism” of the justices, both liberal and conservative. It warns against the increasing power of what was supposed to be the least dangerous branch—nine unelected judges who allocate to themselves decision-making authority over issues that should be left to the elected branches. Read it and start worrying. Then demand change.”
Professor Emeritus at Harvard Law School and Author of The Case Against Impeaching Trump
“David Kaplan mixes the gifts of a colorful storyteller with the incisiveness of a first-class legal brief. Read this book for an original argument on a judicial power grab and to find out why Neil Gorsuch is ‘like an eight-year-old in a counter-revolutionary candy store.’”
author of The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies
“Unafraid of the controversy he will certainly create, David Kaplan has written an important and provocative book about our nation’s least understood, and yet enormously powerful, branch of government. It’s a book that every citizen should read.”
Chairman, Boies Schiller Flexner and Author of Courting Justice
“With the voice of a gifted narrator and the insight of a relentless journalist, Kaplan lifts the veil on the Supreme Court. Through intimate portraits of the nine justices, explorations of their most consequential decisions, and a cinematic portrayal of the Court's central role in our politics, Kaplan makes a compelling case that the other branches have acquiesced to the Court’s power – and that the Court is indeed The Most Dangerous Branch.”
Co-creator of Empire; Screenwriter for Recount, Game Change, The Butler
“Kaplan spares the feelings of neither liberals nor conservatives in this provocative and timely account of how the Supreme Court evolved into something the founders wouldn’t recognize.”
Jack S. Blanton Chair in History at the University of Texas at Austin, and author of Traitor to His Class and Reagan: The Life
About the Author
DAVID A. KAPLAN is the former legal affairs of Newsweek, where he covered the Court for a decade. His other books include The Silicon Boys (a New York Times bestseller that was translated into six languages), The Accidental President (an account of the 2000 election on which HBO’s Recount was partially based), and Mine’s Bigger (a biography of the largest sailboat in the world that won the Loeb Award for Best Business Book of 2008). A graduate of Cornell and the New York University School of Law, he teaches courses in journalism and ethics at NYU. He and his family live in Irvington-on-Hudson, New York.
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The book is well written and researched. Kaplan had many interviews with the Justices and their law clerks as well as reviewed the archives. Kaplan provides an overview of the Court and the role between executive, legislative and judicial. Most of the book covers Justices and the Court of the past few years. He describes how Gorsuch has changed the Court and the retirement of Kennedy. The book is not unbiased even though Kaplan points out the failures of the liberal wing. Kaplan attempts to build a case that the Court has exceeded its role and the legislature has failed to do its job. I was surprised to discover that Kaplan discussed Kavanaugh as a potential to replace Kennedy and how that would affect the make-up of the Court. Kaplan is a journalist and the book is written in that style. It is very easy to read for a lay person. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book and learning about the current Court.
I had this book on preorder from Amazon and it was released and arrived on my iPad Kindle app on the first day of the Kavanaugh hearings. My, what timing! The book is 464 pages and I read it as an e-book.
The individual portraits of the Justices enable the reader to appreciate their individual personalities and how they interact together. The author is critical of several of the Justices: Gorsuch, Roberts, and especially Kennedy who gets a lot of critical attention. This is because for many key years, Kennedy was the swing vote shifting back and forth between the conservative and liberal "flanks" of Justices. The author is unsparing in criticizing Kennedy for lustfully embracing opportunities to plunge into new areas such as the 1965 Voting Rights Act and gay marriage. I was surprised to see that the author has not jumped onto the Justice Ginsberg bandwagon, despite her positive reviews from the press and in other books. Scalia as well does not play a prominent role in the author's assessment. His evaluations of Breyer and Kagan are positive, seeing Breyer as focusing on the functioning of democratic government while Kagan is interested in doctrinaire arguments.
Things get really interesting when the author discusses individual cases in the second part of the book. His chapter on the "Sleeping Giant" is a useful compact history of the major trends in the Court's history. The author's primary yardstick for evaluating cases if whether he believes the Court should even have taken them on for decision. For example, he is almost livid in attacking Roe v. Wade, which "snubbed" state legislatures and ever after has generated intense hostility toward the Court. The greatest self-inflicted wound is Bush v. Gore, where the Court ignored a controlling Congressional statute in order to rule the day. Next in line are the Heller second amendment decision, the 1965 Voting Rights Act case, Citizens United's take on the campaign finance laws, and the gay marriage decision. All these decisions, in the author's opinion, involved the Court rushing into areas where it really had no business or need to intervene. The Court has invaded these areas because it could, and there is no indication that the Court will not continue this undermining of democracy in the future. Obviously, some readers will surely disagree that some of these cases were ill-advised and unnecessary for decision.
The epilogue is interesting for the author's observations about Roberts' role in the Obamacare decision and the revival of the Commerce Clause as a restraint on federal power. The narrative is supported by 42 pages of notes, a table of cases, and an index. Whether or not you agree with the author's overwhelming thesis, a reader will learn a good deal about the Court from this volume. It is especially gratifying for me to see Alex Bickel resume the spotlight (he died far too young in 1974), and perhaps he can once again sharpen our judgments about the Court.
Unfortunately for the author, Justice Kennedy announced his retirement after my review copy was completed. There is a rushed discussion in the final chapter about what might happen if Kennedy retires, this may well be corrected and expanded by publication time. But unless there is substantial rewriting, the book will be out of date upon delivery.
The title and subtitle of the book are misleading. Only in a partisan introduction does the author address the danger posed by the Supreme Court or accuse anyone of assaulting the Constitution. The section is not convincing as the author does not summarize competing views fairly, nor offer a coherent one of his own. Many of the decisions he likes were clearly activist, and many of the ones he opposes were deferential.
He fails to distinguish between key civil liberties and cases that generate tweet storms in the culture wars, but aren't of high practical importance. His summary of history is superficial and romanticized, his current account colored by his political preferences. He dismisses major schools of Constitutional legal thought with brusque denials, and presents only the vaguest alternatives.
Fortunately, this overheated op-ed rant is limited to the first dozen pages or so, and even that has a few good stories in it. Once the author switches from argument to illustration, the tone and style improve.
Overall I recommend this book to readers interested in the day-to-day life of the Supreme Court justices, mainly in the Obama years. It's mildly entertaining to read. It won't give much insight into historical importance or legal theory, just the people who are making the history and theory.