Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Supreme Conflict

If you're a Supreme Court geek like I am, I'd highly recommend picking up a copy of Jan Crawford Greenberg's recent book Supreme Conflict: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court.

I've read a good number of books about the Supreme Court, but two things made Greenberg's book stand out:

1). Greenberg, who is a legal correspondent for ABC News and formerly with the McNeil-Lehrer News Hour, is scrupulously fair in her reporting and characterizations. I expected to find conservatives and conservative positions treated with the typical disdain, and for the legal issues to be approached from the usual liberal standpoint. What I found instead was a balanced, fair presentation of both sides. As a conservative, I felt that my ideas were presented honestly and respectfully, and yet, after reading the book, I have no idea how Greenberg votes--which is a credit to the work she's done here.

2). She uncovers great inside information, along the lines of earlier works like Woodward's The Brethren and Lazarus' Closed Chambers. She conducted interviews with almost all of the justice and makes extensive use of other sources such as the recently released notes of former Justice Harry Blackmun. It makes for a fascinating picture of the inside of the Rehnquist Court, as well as the Roberts and Alito nominations.

One of the great nuggets revealed in her book (via Blackmun's notes) is the fact that Clarence Thomas, widely caracatured by the know-nothing liberal media as a dolt and a Scalia clone, is actually perhaps the most independent justice. As it turns out, it has been Thomas who has far more often swayed Scalia's opinion than vice-versa. Thomas has been willing to stand as a party of one since his very first week on the Court. But of course, as a result of the "soft bigotry of low expectations," the truth about Thomas doesn't fit well with the condescending storyline the media wants to pin on him.

The book also presents the most comprehensive account I've seen yet about the Harriet Miers fiasco--what the administration flunkies were thinking, and what finally changed their minds. I found the book so engrossing I finished it in about two days. If you're a court-watcher, do yourself a favor and take a copy with you on your summer vacation.

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