Friday, March 15, 2013

The Supremes - The High Court That Is

Jeffrey Toobin is at it again and I'm so glad! His studies of the workings of the United States Supreme Court are fascinating for political junkies like me and he writes at a layman's level so that his books would be a perfect way to introduce high school kids to the inner workings of this historical institution.

In his previous book The Nine, which I blogged about here, he took on the earlier history of the court and now, in The Oath; The Obama White House and the Supreme Court, he takes up where he left off. The only quarrel I have with this new book is perhaps the fault of the publisher. I know how much they want to sell books but the cover art is very misleading. This is not a book about the antagonistic relationship between President Obama and Chief Justice Roberts. In fact, Toobin minimizes the gossip that surrounds their dealings.

What Toobin does so well is give us the scuttlebutt, the background stories that court watchers and insiders know and generally keep under wraps. How lawyers are positioned years ahead of time for future Supreme Court potential is amazing. The work that goes into the vetting process, every slightly off-key pronouncement, no matter how slight, is examined under a microscope for possible trouble down the road. What comes across loud and clear is how much more political the choosing of Supreme Court justices has become during my lifetime, especially since the Reagan years.

I particularly get a kick out of reading of the extreme quirks of the justices, their habits when they recess for summer which say so much about them. David Souter, a dour New Englander, is exceptionally interesting in his abhorrence of the public eye when contrasted with folks like Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito who never miss an opportunity to be quoted. Trail blazer, Sandra Day O'Connor, who broke the male sex barrier not that long ago, waited until she retired to begin a prolific writing career whereas our first Hispanic judge, Sonia Sotomayor, is touting her biography already. My Beloved World will be my next read.

I think what's most disturbing to Toobin, and to those of us who lean to the left on social issues, is the systematic way in which the current court has agreed to revisit some important standing laws that have been part of the American fabric for so long.
Toobin feels that Chief Justice Roberts sided with the majority on the Affordable Care Act almost as if he was throwing a bone to the Obama presidency (even if it was a large, juicy one!) because so much of the rest of the court docket involves laws like the Voting Rights Bill, Roe/Wade, and the Defense of Marriage Act, which will undoubtedly fall to the standard 5/4 split.

Of course, this all remains to be seen and the fact is that the court, like our constitution itself, is constantly changing, reinventing, and reflecting the times in which we live. Judges will retire, some may die in office, new judges are chosen and the dynamic changes again. Thanks to Jeffrey Toobin for making it all so clear and accessible. A great read!

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