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Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Book Report!


Jeffrey Toobin’s fascinating The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court (Doubleday $27.95) has everything any political junkie could want. With wit, lucidity and clarity, Jeffrey Toobin relates the history of recent Court history, recounts the major cases, and give incisive profiles of the men and women who serve on the court.
The New York Times Sunday review of the book (and I try not to read too many reviews before writing my own report, so as not to influence my own view) emphasizes a favorite Beltway game of guessing who amongst the Justices talked to Toobin. While that may be fun, I have to say, I don’t really care. Even if some of the justices didn’t talk to Toobin, his sources are close enough. I got a very good sense of who these people are, how they think, and what their temperaments are like. From the privately affable Clarence Thomas, to the reclusive David Souter (who learned only in 2003 that there was a Pop group called The Supremes), to the fairly pompous Anthony Kennedy, to the over-the-top Antonin Scalia, the justices are vividly sketched. Front and center among them is Sandra Day O’Connor who, more often than not, was the swing vote on the court. She tried over those years to steer a middle course and prided herself on knowing the pulse of the country. Sometimes she succeeded, other times, not. She played a central role and cast the deciding vote in Bush v. Gore, a decision we get the feeling she truly regretted as her disenchantment with the President and her “beloved” Republican Party grew.
Toobin covers the intellectual history as well, from the liberal Warren court, through the Burger and Rehnquist courts, to the recent Roberts Nine. The rise to prominence of the Federalist Society, a conservative movement begun in the early ‘80’s and championed by Robert Bork and Scalia, has dominated the thinking of many Bush nominees and appointments. The movement itself wanted to undermine the constitutional basis of a strong government; if it isn’t explicit in the Constitution, then it isn’t constitutional. Apparently it is a document that is race-blind and without gender bias. All constitutional questions should be judged by what the founding Fathers intended. So we have a lot of justices now serving who can also read minds. Especially the minds of men dead for two hundred years.
Iraq will be a devastating legacy for the administration. Alas, so will the Supreme Court appointments and the other justices on the lower courts that Bush has installed. It will take years, perhaps decades, to undo what has been thrust upon us. Paraphrasing Toobin, the Conservative agenda of overturning Roe, expanding executive power, speeding up executions, welcoming religion into the political arena and ‘returning the Constitution from its exile since the New Deal’ is within reach. Only Anthony Kennedy could stand in the way and for all his sophistication, he isn’t Sandra Day O’Connor. What a frickin’ mess.

The Nine is available at Jackson Street Books and Fine Independent Bookstores everywhere.

12 comments:

Dave von Ebers said...

So, lemme ask ya this, Dan ’n Tammy: Are ya gonna carry Clarence Thomas’ new book? Y’ know, the one in which Mr. I-Don’t-Believe-In-Affirmative-Action (or is it, Mr. Hey-I-Got-Mine?) accuses (former) Sen. Paul Simon, among others, of being “racist”?

SeattleDan said...

I hadn't planned on it. Beyond my distaste for Justice Thomas' judicial philosophy, I don't think there's a market for it, especially in the People's Republic of Seattle. I haven't had any requests or orders. The question, and thanks for asking, touches on the next post I'll do, having to do with Banned Books Week and bookstore stock selection. I hope to have it done in a day or so.

Dave von Ebers said...

Yo, D ... apparently Anita Hill wrote a piece in the New York Times lambasting "Justice" Thomas. (Ooops, I better watch myself, lest I be kicked out of th' club, y' know ...) I'll try to post about it later this week if time permits.

Anonymous said...

Duwumps Dan and/or Duwumps Tammy,

I just read on Voices in Wartime that Spectrum Dance Theatre is premiering "Interrupted Narratives/War" Friday at 7 at 1931 2nd Avenue, wherever that is. Were it not diagonally across the entire continental United States from the Green Swamp, I would attend something like this (like entire quadrants of envy toward you Duwumpans). If any of you guys go, I'd love to read a review.

Peace 'n Love, Dammit!

Anonymous David

Anonymous said...

Oops, Peace, Love, and Understanding, Dammit! I don't want much.

Anonymous said...

On original intent, while it is interesting and sometimes helpful to take a look at what record we have of the thinking of the founders, I can't help but be reminded of the intentional fallacy. For me, all that ultimately matters is what words were finally approved, and then what meanings those words had at the time they were made the founding law of the land. Then I set that against the guiding principles, as articulated in the Declaration and the Preamble, because while they are not law, they are an expression of the common values from which this ship of state set sail. I personally also like to look back at the notion of self-government inherent in the Mayflower Compact.

Beyond all that, a common sense of what those words can be reasonably taken to mean by society in general must carry the day, not notions counter to what those words can reasonably be taken to mean, and certainly not notions driven by a narrow ideology such as that of the Federalist Society with their highly debatable psychic powers.

One of the things that has always fascinated me is that a jury has the right to acquit a defendant simply because it believes conviction would be an injustice, or at least more wrong than whatever the defendent did. That is a two-edged sword, of course, since it is why white supremacists could be acquitted of murder in apartheid Mississippi, but it is also an expression of the notion that citizens must have the final say in such matters, not the government, especially if the actions of the government in arresting and imprisoning people becomes an injustice.

Sandra Day, you should feel remorse all the way down to your bone marrow, as should Anthony.

Anonymous David

Dave von Ebers said...

Anonymous David, well said.

In fact, you’ve really summed up what “statutory construction” is all about. Anytime a court is trying to determine the “intent” of the legislature in enacting a particular law – and this goes in spades for the Constitution – the first question is, what does the plain language of the law mean. If a statute or constitutional provision is plain on its face, there is no need to go further. Congress is expected to understand the import of the language it uses, and it is expected to express its intent clearly. So, where the language at issue is plain and unambiguous, that’s what Congress intended … whether they like it or not. Of course, if the court gets it “wrong,” in the sense that Congress meant something different from what the plain language means, Congress has the power to amend the statute to clarify its intent.

The same is true for the Constitution; and it’s significant that Congress has never seriously tried to modify any provision of the Bill of Rights despite some rather controversial decisions by the Supreme Court. Our conservative friends chafe at decisions like Miranda v. Arizona and Gideon v. Wainwright, but they have left the Bill of Rights alone rather than tinker with the language to undo those cases.

Also, there are any number of provisions in the Constitution that were purposefully drafted in such a way that their meaning would evolve over time (two ready examples are the 8th Amendment’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment” and the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of “equal protection under the law”). The framers of the Constitution were wise enough to know that society would evolve and the Constitution itself would have to adapt to meet new challenges – all for the very purpose of ensuring the continued vitality of the essential principles upon which the whole thing is based.

Dave

SeattleDan said...

Anon Dave, I was thinking of the intentional fallacy the whole time I was writing the book report, but didn't use the phrase, not wanting to drag in T.S.Eliot. Sometimes I think I come off too erudite as it is, and I'm really not that smart.

And thanks for the heads-up on the Spectrum Dance Company. I can't say we'll make it. I'm pretty sure that the Co, provided the dancers for the Spring production of "West Side Story" we saw and they were brilliant. For anyone who has only seen the movie, I can only recommend seeing a good staging of it. Truly a great theatre experience.

And, Dave vE, thanks for your comments and good perspective. I'm sure you're right about the Framers. And Go Cubs!

Dave von Ebers said...

The Aught-Seven Cubs.

Sigh.

Down Aught-Two ...

Anonymous said...

C'mon, Cubbies, do it for Dave.

I saw a clip last night of Thomas and his contention that liberals were a greater threat to him than the KKK. I'm not sure what world he lives in, but it ain't the real one. I grew up in the apartheid South, and can attest that it was Southern Liberals and risk-taking Northern Liberals standing with the real driving force, Southern Blacks who had simply gotten completely fed up with southern racism and centrist reticence which freed Clarence Thomas from the lethal racism which infected the South in which he grew up. Clarence Thomas, who apparently ain't right in the head, is full of shit, and if I'd been present when he said that, I likely would have told him to his face exactly that. He doesn't even belong in the building, let alone sitting on the highest bench in the nation. Put him over in the When the human mind goes terribly awry section.

Anonymous David

Dave von Ebers said...

Thanks, Anonymous D ... but it's too late fer my Cubbies.

As for Thomas ... what a hump. I'll never forget -- never forget, dammit -- that jerk looking Sen. Paul Simon in the face and calling him a racist on national TV. Man, Clarence Thomas made a mortal enemy of me that day ...

Say, maybe he and another Thomas -- the New York Knicks' Isaiah Thomas -- can get together and weep about how they've been lynched ... or, maybe they can whine and complain about how chicks just can't take a joke anymore.

Jesus H. Christ.

Anonymous said...

What an appropriate pairing of two world-class embarrassments.

Anonymous David