Lukasz Pruski's Reviews > The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court

The Nine by Jeffrey Toobin
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Jul 27, 2017

really liked it

"[Justice O'Connor] had single-handedly remade the law in the most controversial area of Supreme Court jurisprudence. And she had done it in a way that both reflected and satisfied the wishes of most Americans. No other woman in United States history, and very few men, made such an enormous impact on their country."

Another book about Supreme Court: I am a devotee of the subject and hope to read more and more about the institution that holds more power than the President. Jeffrey Toobin's The Nine (2007) is a great book and I enthusiastically recommend it! Only Cees Nooteboom's Roads To Santiago prevents it from getting the five-star rating: it is not exactly in the same stellar class of a non-fiction masterpiece as Nooteboom's work.

The subtitle of the book is pretty catchy: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, and it seems to promise juicy details about the highest court's workings. Luckily, the author manages to keep the "juiciness" to minimum and there is not much gossip to keep our attention away from deep analyses of the court's work. The book roughly covers the period of 1990s to mid-2000s, a time frame that included the longest period of stability in composition of the court in almost 200 years: no new justices were sworn in between August of 1994 (Justice Breyer) to September of 2005 (Justice Roberts), the final eleven years of the so-called Rehnquist Court.

The main theme of the book is the apparent failure of the conservative counter-revolution on Supreme Court that was supposed to happen when W. Rehnquist became the Chief Justice in 1986 and when seven out of nine justices had been nominees of Republican presidents. The author traces the emergence of "originalism" (the jurisprudence of the framers' original intention) and relates the Right's continuous attempts to correct the "liberal excesses" of the Warren Court and, in particular, to overturn the Roe vs. Wade (which ruling technically happened during the Burger Court).

That the counter-revolution failed - at least during the time frame covered in the book - is according to the author mainly the work of a few justices who did not perform on the nation's highest bench as they were expected to. First and foremost, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor: she is the main protagonist of the book and the most important of The Nine. A Goldwater-style conservative from Arizona evolved into a most pragmatic and effective persona on the court, the most powerful factor of moderation and reason:
O'Connor's extraordinary political instincts let her exercise her authority in a moderate way. [...] Her judicial approach was indefensible in theory and impeccable in practice.
As an enthusiastic supporter of pragmatism and non-believer in absolutism of any kind I admire Justice O'Connor. The author also emphasizes the role of Justice Kennedy, another failed hope of the conservative movement. Here Mr. Toobin stresses the influence of international contacts on the evolution of Justice Kennedy's judicial philosophy. Justice Breyer's role on the court is also recounted in quite a sympathetic way, despite his short tenure.

The two of the Court's conservative stalwarts, Justices Scalia and Chief Rehnquist, are also shown in positive light: the former for his intellectual brilliance and personal charm, the latter for his pragmatism, efficiency and high degree of professionalism. Justices Stevens (the third longest-serving member in the history of the court), Souter, and Ginsburg are also well presented and the readers might feel as if they know them personally. I also admire the author's tact and moderation when dealing with the remarkably modest achievements of the "Stable Court's" remaining member.

Of course personal portraits of the justices are not the most important aspect of the book. The presentation of major cases is, and the reader will find an amazing wealth of details and interpretations. Among a number of important cases we have an astute analysis of the 1992 Casey case, the Bush vs. Gore case, and the two affirmative action cases stemming from the University of Michigan lawsuits.

Four and a half stars.
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