The United States Supreme Court inspires millions and millions of words of commentary --most of them unreadable by a lay audience (and even among law scholars.) The culture of secrecy surrounding the Court that has developed over the centuries has helped to imbue the Court with a crucial authority, but it also obscures the reality that the nine justices, while smarter than most, are as equal as the rest of us when it comes to the ups and downs that life throws at everyone. Except that one justice has climbed a longer and harder road than any of his predecessors save perhaps one, who left no first person record of that struggle.
Now not one but two books about the Court and its members arrive. One reminds us that a robe does not necessarily bring wisdom, confer strength, or erase pride or ambition. The other confirms that character is the product of many influences, most of them within the family, and that strength in the face of adversity is a learned behavior.
Both are wonderful reads. One will be read for generations as one deeply biased but nevertheless entertaining and informative view of how the Supreme Court has been working for the past twenty-five years.
The other will be read for even longer as one of the most arresting works of political autobiography a major American public figure has ever penned.
Jeffrey Toobin's The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court is a riveting, gossipy, and as I noted above, wildly biased account of why the Rehnquist Court acted as it did. A superb reporter and writer, but also a transparent man of the left, Toobin had access to at least Justices O'Connor and Breyer (or is a fraud rivaling Clifford Irving and I don't believe that for a second) and uses these highly valued sources to create an account of the Court's tumultuous past two-plus decades. Along the way portraits of each of the current justices plus the retired O'Connor and the deceased William Rehnquist emerge that will impact their public perceptions for many years to come.
Unfortunately for Justices Breyer, Kennedy, O'Connor and Souter, the impressions Toobin leaves are not favorable ones, though Toobin seems unaware of what he has done to the reputation of the quartet.
Did he intend to diminish the reputations of the justices, I asked Toobin in an interview the transcript of which is here. Toobin seemed nonplussed by the question, and objected that many had thought he'd paid too much homage to Justice O'Connor, though he admitted to roughing up Anthony Kennedy.