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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Old Nine Farts

Speaking of Ted Olson, I just finished reading Jeffrey Toobin's The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court. Its major revelations--that Souter weeps when he thinks about Bush v. Gore, that O'Connor came to despise Bush for his lawlessness and extremism and regrets having installed him in the White House, that John Roberts is less a human being than a Federalist Society cyborg, etc.--got loads of press when the book came out a few months back.

Toobin's attention to legal detail and flair for high drama make the book a great read. His key argument, that rigid ideology has overtaken all other criteria in both the selection of justices and the creation of court majorities, is hard to deny, as is his demonstration that such forces are much stronger on the court's right than its "left" (such as it is). Toobin goes out of his way to present sympathetic and nuanced portraits of each justice, even while exposing their warts. Clarence Thomas, destined to go down as one of the most pathetic and loathsome justices in history, a man consumed by rage, vengeance, and victimization while occupying one of the world's best jobs--a job for which he was at best minimally qualified--gets the common man hero treatment. He's apparently keepin' it real by taking his RV for sleep-overs to Wal-Mart while following NASCAR. (Paraphrase: "Golly, how lucky to be surrounded by all my whitest brothers.") He's nice to janitors and dogs. Were Toobin writing an expose on the power structures of Oz, I suspect he'd compliment the Wicked Witch of the East on her shoes and the Witch of the West on her fondness for exotic animals. Still, his analysis of Thomas as a man driven by personal grievance rather than by reasoned philosophy is calmly devastating.

The central portraits in the book are O'Connor's and Kennedy's, as they should be. The former comes off much better than the latter. Sandy may be a country club dame policing the aesthetics of policy, but at least she's not a finger-to-the-wind flake enamored of his own grandiose cosmic importance. For me, some of the lesser portraits may have been the most interesting: Jay Sekulow, Ted Olson, and especially Stephen Breyer, who is as close to a hero as this story can get.

Toobin ends on an apocalyptic note. The Court, he believes, is headed into the dark night of hard right ideology. If there is any minor consolation, it is that, as awful as Sam Alito is, Toobin makes a strong case that both Al Gonzalez and Harriet Miers would have been even worse (the wingnuts were wrong to see them as squishy "moderates"). Happy New Year!!


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