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The Oath: The Obama White House and The Supreme Court Paperback – June 4, 2013
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A Washington Post Notable Work of Nonfiction
From the moment Chief Justice Roberts botched Barack Obama's oath of office, the relationship between the Court and the White House has been a fraught one. Grappling with issues as diverse as campaign finance, abortion, and the right to bear arms, the Roberts court has put itself squarely at the center of American political life. Jeffrey Toobin brilliantly portrays key personalities and cases and shows how the President was fatally slow to realize the importance of the judicial branch to his agenda. Combining incisive legal analysis with riveting insider details, The Oath is an essential guide to understanding the Supreme Court of our interesting times.
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"Toobin is one of the most talented reporters covering American law." —The New York Times Book Review
“Deeply versed in Supreme Court lore and legal subtlety, [Toobin] draws upon first-hand interviews with the justices and their clerks in crafting an anxious tale of the Roberts court, casting its major rulings as looming symbols of judicial philosophy. . . . A polished and thoughtful dissection.” —USA Today
“A compelling narrative of the early years of the Roberts court. . . . The many pleasures of The Oath come . . . from human details about the justices and their interactions with the White House.” —The Washington Post
“Anyone fascinated by the inner workings of the highest court in the land will be delighted.” —The Huffington Post
“Not until scholars a generation hence gain access to the justices’ papers are we likely to have a more useful, or more readable, picture of this oddly assorted group of judges at this moment in history.” —The New York Times Book Review
“A worthy successor to The Nine, The Oath is a work of probity, intelligence and exceptional reporting.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Might . . . be viewed eventually as the best book about the court during the opening half-decade of John Roberts’ reign as chief justice. . . . Toobin does his job well.” —The Seattle Times
“Court watchers, serious and occasional, will find Toobin’s explanation of the issues at stake . . . before the Roberts court well worth their time.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Exceptionally readable. . . . Blends strong reporting with a sure historical grasp of the court.” —The Columbus Dispatch
“An artfully constructed chronicle. . . . The Oath delivers a bracing survey of the court’s key decisions and divisions. . . . Toobin’s sketches of the justices are fabulous.” —Bookforum
“Lucid, lively and astute. . . . Toobin has the chops (and the contacts) to take readers inside the court.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“For political, and governmental, junkies. . . . Fall[s] into the Robert Caro–Lyndon Johnson category. . . . Reminds us that it is the interplay between different personalities and agendas that more than any scholarly argument or historical text is often at the heart of the laws we live with.” —The Boston Globe
“A reliable and astute guide through the thicket of legalese.” —The Miami Herald
“Toobin [is] a rare authority who knows how to write. . . . This is, in short, a book suitable for reading in the study or while sprawled at the beach.” —Chicago Sun-Times
“A revealing look at the ideological battle between the White House and the Supreme Court.” —Booklist (starred review)
“A skillful probing of the often-discordant relationship between the president and the Supreme Court. . . . Shrewd and elucidating.” —Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
- Publisher : Anchor; Reprint edition (June 4, 2013)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 352 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0307390713
- ISBN-13 : 978-0307390714
- Item Weight : 11.5 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.22 x 0.72 x 7.98 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #205,248 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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The book is also strongly opinionated -- moreso than I expected. He argues forcefully that Roberts came to the court with a "conservative" agenda in mind that was at the root the opposite of conservative. The Roberts court, in his view, was on a mission to overturn much of the law settled by Supreme Court decisions from the New Deal on. Toobin argues this compellingly, and argues that it was a radical rather than a conservative approach. I found his arguments convincing, but his political views are in line with my own. A more conservative -- or more Republican -- reader might find the arguments less convincing. Whether or not you agree, however, this book is well worth reading, both informative and thought provoking.
For all those interested in Supreme Court history and the lives of the individual justice, this is a must read. Toobin also brings to life the manner in which judges are appointed and how one decision, one minor factor can be the deciding factor as to whether or not a person gets a seat on the high court.
I an only look forward to Toobin's next book. And if I had to guess, I would guess that it will be on Justice Scalia.
Toobin writes about the high court as well as anyone living. His first book on the court, "The Nine," relied extensively on interviews with court clerks, and, perhaps, the justices themselves.
He returns to those sources in "The Oath" to provide a behind the scenes look at the court's most controversial decisions during the past four years.
If you're like most folks, you think an appeal to the Constitution, like reliance on the Bible, should end any debate.
"The Constitution says ...," we like to say, just as we report on Jesus's utterances as though he were walking among us. But reliance on both the Bible and the Constitution is really the beginning of any debate; just what we are to make of these documents, how we are to read them, is the stuff of both theology and the law.
The high priests of constitutional interpretation are the nine justices of the Supreme Court, each appointed for life, and most serving well into their 80s. They are the final arbiters of what the Constitution means. A political party controlling the appointment of judges can exert great influence on how the document is read and interpreted.
Today's debate on judges pits "judicial activists," judges who "legislate from the bench," unelected elites imposing their values on the rest of us, against originalists, those adhering to the intent of the founders. Or so the argument goes. What if the real activists were those pretending both that the founders' intentions could be readily discerned and that the founders really wanted us to be faithful to their intentions? What if originalism is really just an ideological hoax?
This debate about competing schools of constitutional interpretation pits, in the language of the law's scholars, proponents of "originalism" against the "living constitution."
The bizarre notion that we are to interpret the Constitution as strict textualists bound to the intentions of the framers is largely the brainchild of Justice Antonin Scalia. It serves as the political platform of the Federalist Society, a group which set its sights, a quarter of a century ago, on transforming the judiciary into a group of lifetime appointees dedicated to reading the current values of the Republican Party into the law of the land. It is activism of the highest kind, hoping to eliminate a woman's right to have an abortion, to securing an individual's right to possess firearms, to making public life better reflect the private religious beliefs of those who claim a close familiarity with God's will.
Toobin decodes judicial decisions on such issues as corporate contributions to political advocacy campaigns, health-care reform and immigration reform, into expressions of political or policy preferences by the justices.
A core of four steadfastly conservative justices, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and John Roberts, can be counted on to tilt in the direction of Republican windmills; Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg will tilt in the direction of the Democrats.
That leaves Anthony Kennedy, a swing vote, and, in Toobin's view, a man with a vast and somewhat egomaniacal view of his role as a justice, with the enormous power to decide cases by siding with either the conservative or liberal bloc of justices.
A document so clear in its meaning that only those willfully blind can misread it ought not routinely yield 5-4 decisions when put to the test of interpretation.
Toobin ends his book with the following observation, which summarizes things perfectly:
"There was some irony in the conservative embrace of originalism, in insistence by Scalia and others that the Constitution is `dead' and unchanging. With their success, driven by people, ideas, and money, conservatives proved just how much the Constitution can change, and it did. Obama and his party were the ones who acted like the Constitution remained inert; they hoped the Constitution and the values underlying it would somehow take care of themselves. That has never happened, and it never will. Invariably, inevitably, the Constitution lives."
Long live, I might add, the living Constitution.