Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Book Review: Supreme Conflict

TitleSupreme Conflict: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court
AuthorJan Crawford Greenburg
Tagssupreme court

This is an excellent book to introduce people to the complexities of the Supreme Court. Greenburg, a reporter for ABC News with a law degree, has written one of the most objective books I've read... and I don't much believe anyone is objective.

The book covers the court from the mid-80s or so, and the confirmations of Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy. Both were disappointments to social conservatives, who were hoping for Roe v. Wade and affirmative action to be overturned. Both started out as fairly reliably conservative, but O'Connor began drifting left in response to Clarence Thomas and his aggressive early stances on the Court. Kennedy, the author believes, drifted left in part in response to public opinion. Neither had a firm judicial philosophy, preferring to take a case-by-case approach. The judicial conservatives believed in interpreting law not making it, while the liberals believed in an evolving Constitution and the ability of judges to affect social issues.

At least those are the theories. One of the things that comes across most clearly is that laws, like anything written by humans, are subject to interpretation, and that the range of possible interpretations is broad. After all, if there were no disagreements on interpretation there wouldn't be a requirement for so many judges. Well-meaning and competent people can, and do, differ as to what laws mean and whether their meaning evolves over time.

Greenburg also gives a picture of the personalities of each judge. They are a diverse group. Roberts and Alito, the newest members, are what those on the right have been seeking for years, reliably conservative, but both are well-qualified and work well with others. They are of an age to sit on the bench for years to come.

Excellent book, a worthwhile read.
PublicationPenguin (Non-Classics) (2008), Paperback, 368 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN0143113046 / 9780143113041

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