- Paperback: 368 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books (January 29, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0143113046
- ASIN: B004EYUGHA
- Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 81 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,468,261 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Supreme Conflict: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court
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This book by Jan Crawford Greenburg is a brief overview of the Supreme court since about the 1970's. She covers the appointments made to the court by presidents Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II.
The bulk of the narrative centers around the nomination process itself. Greenburg sticks pretty closely to this script. She does cover hot button social issues such as abortion and affirmative action. She also describes the political wrangling between conservative groups, liberal groups, White House Counsel, the president and the members of the Supreme Court itself.
The preparation that each nominee goes through is eye-opening. The hearing itself is something of a marathon grilling that can last several days. Each nominee must be willing to endure very close scrutiny from government bureaucrats and the press. Only the thick skinned and privileged can successfully be nominated to the court.
There are some interesting differences between who gets nominated today and who in years past (pre-1970s). Past nominees did not need to be experts in Constitutional law, they simply needed to be good judges with a good track record. Not so today: they must not only be competent judges, but also have experience writing opinions and have adjudicated major cases. They must also have graduated from an ivy league school in law and have clerked for the supreme court or argued cases before the court.
I liked this book overall: it provides clear insight into the nomination process: who gets selected and who is passed over. The political wrangling over nominees is also clearly shown. Greenburg was given unprecedented access to the justices, their friends and court records. Overall, I thought it was an enjoyable read. It was a little slow in places and somewhat repetitive. I found myself riveted at times and at other times bored as I read.
While the politics of nominations was interesting and the interactions between the justices was interesting, I found myself wanting a deeper understanding of the history of the court from the beginning of the United States. It wasn't the focus here. It's possible that content like this was edited out of the book, but I think the book suffers because of it. The scope was too narrow for my taste.
I thought the writing style was good. It has a journalistic feel to it. This is not surprising considering the fact that Greenburg works as a news correspondent who covers the Supreme Court. This is why she was given unprecedented access to current court members. The book could have been improved if it had a more dramatic style; not untruthful mind you, just stylized a little more. The style fell a little flat because it was written too straight-forwardly. It was more reporting without so much crafting a cohesive story.
If you have never read anything on the Supreme Court, I would recommend this book to you. While it does have its flaws, the book does a good job where it excels. The strengths are the close view we get of the nomination process, the preparation required for confirmation hearings and the politics of nomination. Also a strong point was Greenburg's coverage of hot button social issues such as abortion and affirmative action. The weaknesses of the book were it's style and its lack of a strong cohesive theme. It was more reporting of the court in a chronological fashion than thematic.
So overall I enjoyed this book. I learned much more about the Supreme Court and how it works. I enjoyed reading this book in spite of its weaknesses, so I would recommend it.
Going all the way back to Nixon, every Republican president had the goal of appointing "conservative" justices. In this context, "conservative" means a particular judicial (not political) philosophy. A "conservative" approach gives effect to the text and tradition of the Constitution, as contrasted with a "liberal" approach that believes in a living, evolving Constitution. Conservatives believe a living Constitution gives five unelected, life tenured LAWYERS the license to usurp legislative and executive powers reserved to those branches of government.
Ms. Greenburg examines how and why Republican presidents have failed to remake the Court, despite having appointed ten consecutive justices from Nixon through Bush I. It turns out there are a variety of reasons, including sloppy vetting, cronyism and political weakness, resulting in "moderates" like Blackmun (Nixon), Powell (Nixon), Stevens (Ford), O'Connor (Reagan), Kennedy (Reagan) and Souter (Bush I). The author believes Bush II may have figured out how to avoid those mistakes by appointing experienced circut court judges with proven track records, such as Roberts and Alito (although his attempt to nominate Miers runs counter to that theory).
Ms. Greenburg is an excellent writer, researcher and analyst. That her approach is fair and balanced is confirmed by the almost universally good reviews from political liberals and conservatives. This book is hightly recommended.