9 Justices Who Sit in the Eye of Storms - "The Oath"
With its landmark 5-to-4 vote last June to uphold President Obama’s health care reform law, the Supreme Court once again became the focus of a national debate that centered on its pivotal — and political — role in an increasingly partisan America, with public approval of the highest court in the land sinking to 41 percent in July. The court’s evolving internal dynamics under the stewardship of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and its relationship with President Obama are the subjects of Jeffrey Toobin’s useful new book, “The Oath”: a follow-up to his 2007 best seller, “The Nine,” and a reminder that the presidential election in two weeks is likely to determine the ideological makeup of what has been a narrowly divided court in years to come.
Mr. Toobin — a staff writer at The New Yorker and senior legal analyst at CNN — draws upon not-for-attribution interviews with the justices and more than 40 of their law clerks to serve up a lucid, if sometimes highly opinionated, assessment of the Roberts court. The book focuses at length on the health care ruling and the bitterly contested 5-to-4 Citizens United decision, which has contributed to the deregulation of the campaign finance landscape.
Readers will certainly not agree with all of Mr. Toobin’s analysis, and there are some unfortunate slips into invective in this volume: at one point he goes so far as to describe Justice Antonin Scalia as becoming a “right-wing crank.” For the most part, however, Mr. Toobin makes reasoned cases for his interpretations of court rulings, their historical context and their possible social and political consequences. He puts today’s conservative judicial activism in perspective with that of the liberal Warren Court of a half-century ago. And he looks at how the current makeup of the court reflects changes in the Republican Party at large, underscoring in particular the fallout created by the departure of the moderate Republican Sandra Day O’Connor.
(“What makes this harder,” she reportedly told Justice David Souter as she was preparing to leave, “is that it’s my party that’s destroying the country.”)