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The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court (2007)

by Jeffrey Toobin

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2,534785,875 (4.05)93
As the Supreme Court continues to rule on important issues, it is essential to understand how it operates. Based on exclusive interviews with the justices themselves and other insiders, this is a timely "state of the union" about America's most elite legal institution. From Anthony Kennedy's self-importance, to Antonin Scalia's combativeness, to David Souter's eccentricity, and even Sandra Day O'Connor's fateful breach with President George W. Bush, this book offers a rare personal look at how the individual style of each justice affects the way in which they wield their considerable power. Toobin shows how--since Reagan--conservatives were long thwarted in their attempts to control the Court by some of the very justices they pressured Presidents to appoint. That struggle ended with the recent appointments of John Roberts and Samuel Alito, and Toobin relays the behind-the-scenes drama in detail, as well as the ensuing 2007 Court term.--From publisher description.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 76 (next | show all)
This was one of the great nonfiction books that I have ever read. It combined readability with a good, comprehensive analysis of the last 20 years of the supreme court. Perhaps its greatest accolade is that after reading it I'm certain that I have a good foundational understanding of the workings and doings of the recent court, and that when it ended I really was hoping it was (magically) going to continue into the Obama years (after the book was published).

Overall, highly recommended if you're interested in the Judicial system at all. Ranks right up there with Team of Rivals as "Best Historical/Political Nonfiction" ( )
  mrbearbooks | Apr 22, 2024 |
Entertaining read with an overall focus on personalities of the Court and the attempt of the Right, beginning around the time of Reagan's election and the founding of the Federalist Society, to take control of the Court and wrench it in their direction, which showed signs at the time of the book's publication following the 2007 term of finally coming to fruition.

Thanks to this intense effort, it seems impossible to credit that we will ever again be surprised by a Supreme Court justice's views on Constitutional issues, as once could happen. A Republican President today would not be allowed by his base to nominate someone like Sandra Day O'Connor, a favorite subject of this book, whose rulings on contentious issues were based not so much on any specific judicial philosophy as by a political interest in finding the "center" of an issue, guided by her usually unerring sense of where a majority of the American people were on it.

This led her, along with Souter and Kennedy, all Republican appointees, to shock the Republican base when they upheld Roe v. Wade, another favorite subject of this book, in the Casey decision, when it seemed more probable that it would be overturned. While O'Connor was driven by public opinion, Kennedy comes across as driven by an eagerness to be the center of attention, and to be dramatic.
Kennedy relished his public role and sought out the opinions that would make the newspapers. Seated at his keyboard typing furiously, Kennedy always labored most closely on the sections of opinions that might be quoted in the New York Times.
Souter, the ringleader of the effort to save Roe, was altogether different: shy, reclusive, cautious, with a strong respect for Court precedent. Also a famous bachelor.
Over the years, practically everyone Souter knew in Washington, including First Lady Barbara Bush, tried to fix him up. None succeeded. One of his fellow justices once prevailed on Souter to take a woman out to dinner, and she reported back that she thought the evening had gone very well - until the end. Souter took her home, told her what a good time he had, then added: "Let's do this again next year."
This 'betrayal' infuriated Antonin Scalia, who is often and easily infuriated, and who writes the most withering and insulting dissents of any justice. Not that his ultra-aggressive behavior often does him much good.
But by the time of Casey it was clear that Scalia's zest, passion, and intelligence did not translate into the most important thing one member of a court of nine could have - influence... [Kennedy] came to be repelled by Scalia's dogmatism.
The most extreme member of the court however is not Scalia, but rather Clarence Thomas. Thomas, seemingly forever embittered and angry by his difficulty during his confirmation process, stands unique among the justices in his entirely retro beliefs, wishing to turn back the clock completely to the pre-New Deal days, invalidating such now basic programs and laws as Social Security, a minimum wage, work hours and safety conditions, etc. If the founders didn't themselves know about it or explicitly advocate it, he believes, it's not Constitutional, despite the fact that over 200 years have passed.
Probably the greatest contrast between Thomas and his colleagues was that he fundamentally did not believe in stare decisis, the law of precedent... That no justice had expressed views like his for decades - and that his approach would invalidate much of the work of the contemporary federal government - disturbed Thomas not at all... At an appearance at a New York synagogue in 2005, Scalia was asked to compare his own judicial philosophy with that of Thomas. "I am an originalist," Scalia said, "but I am not a nut."
O'Connor tended to view people, events, happenings, as either "attractive" or "unattractive". By the end of her stay on the Court, she found that the GOP of her day was pretty much gone, replaced by the fiercely ideological and right-wing GOP of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, which she found appallingly "unattractive". Her replacement on the Court by Samuel Alito, a lawyer and judge raised professionally in the Federalist Society whose right-wing ideology could not be doubted, represents this new era.

There's lots of other good stuff in the book, such as how Ruth Bader Ginsburg believes the Constitution protects a woman's right to have an abortion under a different theory than Roe v. Wade, the Court's various rulings on church and state issues, how the dynamics on the Right doomed the Harriet Miers nomination when once she would have easily been confirmed, and profiling the smooth and ultra-competent poster boy of the Right, John Roberts, whose right-wing bonafides ironically only Miers seemed to have much doubt about.

While the last chapter comes close to concluding that the Right has finally won with Alito replacing O'Connor, giving them a solid 5-4 majority over the liberals, an afterword published to an edition a year later pulls back a bit on this theory, noting that Roberts was giving small signs of hesitation about the Court's shift to the right.

Later, of course, Roberts would provide the deciding vote in ruling Obamacare, the issue that most infuriated the Right since Roe, Constitutional. So, perhaps, the Court and its justices can continue to surprise us. Long may they frustrate the Right's ambitions. ( )
  lelandleslie | Feb 24, 2024 |
Like watching your favorite soap opera with Supreme Court justices as the characters. ( )
  emmby | Oct 4, 2023 |
need to finish ( )
  pollycallahan | Jul 1, 2023 |
Toobin writes a fairly in depth synopsis of the Supreme Court's activities since Roe v. Wade, touching upon all the major cases and personalities along the way. He definitely deserves a lot of credit for the research that must have been required to write this book, and I felt that I learned a LOT that I did not know before.

Unfortunately, while I felt educated, I didn't feel all that engaged. The personalities didn't really come alive for me, and the cases were explained in a way that I felt was a tad murky. My expectation was more of a lengthy Time Magazine article, and it was more of a history book.

However, it did really tweak my interest and make me want to read more about the specific cases that it mentioned. I think any one of the cases would make for an interesting book on it's own - - and I don't know what is out there about these cases, but I hope to find out.

All in all, my critique may not be completely fair because I generally do not read history as a genre with the exception of some biography/memoir. I think if you have an interest in how our government works, this book is probably a great overview of the judicial branch.

Also, I am libertarian, but felt that the author was not pleased about the conservative bent of the court. I can understand that, but almost felt as though he was going to pains to hide the fact. He was trying to write in the unbiased fashion of a reporter, and I didn't feel he was totally successful in that endeavor.

Bottom line, if you have an interest in the topic, this book is a worthwhile read - - but it probably isn't going to be completely satisfying. ( )
  Anita_Pomerantz | Mar 23, 2023 |
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Prologue, The Steps
The architect Cass Gilbert had grand ambitions for his design of a new home for the Supreme court—what he called "the greatest tribunal in the world, one of the three great elements of our national government."
Chapter 1, The Federalist War of Ideas
For a long time, during the middle of the twentieth century, it wasn't even clear what it meant to be a judicial conservative.
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As the Supreme Court continues to rule on important issues, it is essential to understand how it operates. Based on exclusive interviews with the justices themselves and other insiders, this is a timely "state of the union" about America's most elite legal institution. From Anthony Kennedy's self-importance, to Antonin Scalia's combativeness, to David Souter's eccentricity, and even Sandra Day O'Connor's fateful breach with President George W. Bush, this book offers a rare personal look at how the individual style of each justice affects the way in which they wield their considerable power. Toobin shows how--since Reagan--conservatives were long thwarted in their attempts to control the Court by some of the very justices they pressured Presidents to appoint. That struggle ended with the recent appointments of John Roberts and Samuel Alito, and Toobin relays the behind-the-scenes drama in detail, as well as the ensuing 2007 Court term.--From publisher description.

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Book description
Nice fluid style, imminently readable. Sheds a lot of light on an institution that we don't hear much about, aside from their decisions.
Haiku summary
Judicial power

Lies not in the Chief Justice

But with the swing vote.

(matt.heger)

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