Friday, January 4, 2008

The Future of the Supreme Court

I’ve just finished Jeffrey Toobin’s The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, one of the books I’d asked for for Christmas. While I’d read his New Yorker account of the Martha Stewart trial, I’ve had no other experience with his writing before this. On the back of the book’s jacket, Doris Goodwin, whose writing on Lincoln I’ve enjoyed, calls The Nine “a remarkable riveting book… (where) the justices and their inner world are brought vividly to life” and she’s right. The book not only captures the history of key individual cases and the workings of the court, but also gives a strong sense of the personalities and quirks of each specific justice. Throughout the book, Toobin makes the ways in which extreme conservatism has shaped the justices’ decisions—in the 90s by causing Republican appointed Justices O’Connor and Kennedy to move further left in response to the extremism, but then, since 2005 and the appointment of the very conservative Alito and the almost as conservative (though clearly more personable) Roberts, by expanding the role of the executive and ignoring the principle of stare decisis in recent cases.

The Nine made me fonder of Tony Kennedy and his penchant for international law than I’d been in the past and upheld my appreciation for some of what Sandra Day O’Connor accomplished for women (though I still can’t warm up to some of her individual states’ rights rulings) while reinforcing my dislike for Nino Scalia. And it made clear how the only factor that will determine whether the Supreme Court will continue to limit and ultimately reverse such decisions as Miranda, Brown, and Roe is a political one. It makes this next presidential election even more crucial than before, since several of the justices— including the more liberal Ginsburg and Stevens—will probably resign during the next eight years.

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