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Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court

A-The NineWhen Sandra Day O’Connor, a key moderate justice, retired, William Rehnquist died, and President Bush appointed John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court, the balance of the highest court in the nation shifted to the right. Now, argues Jeffrey Toobin, a CNN legal analyst and New Yorker staff writer, conservatives lie within one vote of "total control" of the Court. Their agenda? Reverse Roe v. Wade, expand executive power, hasten executions, and breach the church-state divide. Starting with Ronald Reagan’s administration, Toobin offers a close-up portrait of the nation’s nine justices appointed for life, showing how personality, personal philosophy, and individual alliances have shaped the direction of the Court—and the nation.
Doubleday. 384 pages. $27.95. ISBN: 0385516401

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"As Jeffery Toobin writes in his intelligent and even-handed report on our modern day Supreme Court, The Nine, today’s justices will eventually not only change interpretations of constitutional law but also will transform American life itself. … Toobin’s access to the Supremes and to their secret little world is phenomenal." Stephen J. Lyons

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Driven by the author’s assured narrative voice, The Nine is as informative as it is fascinating, as insightful as it is readable. … Mr. Toobin reveals in this book just how much personality shapes interactions on the court and sometimes determines the direction of debate." Michiko Kakutani

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"Based on interviews with some of the justices and about 75 of their former clerks, The Nine is anecdotally rich and clearly written. The best-told tale is Toobin’s account of the court’s role in the 2000 presidential election." Richard Willing

Hartford Courant 3 of 5 Stars
"In quality, it does not trump previous Supreme Court exposés, many of which he lists in his bibliography and relies on in his endnotes. But it rises on the virtue of timeliness." Steve Weinberg

Rocky Mountain News 3 of 5 Stars
"At the end of the day, many may find the book boring. Toobin’s colorful anecdotes about the justices attempt to overcome this potential flaw, not always with success. … [The book] may find a limited reception with general readers, despite the fact that it lives up to its subtitle and pries open the doors of America’s most secret public institution." Kelly Lemieux

Los Angeles Times 0.5 of 5 Stars
"Toobin’s fifth book—previous ones include accounts of the O. J. Simpson case, the impeachment of President Clinton and the 2000 presidential election—showcases debatable opinions rather than thorough research or original reporting. … Who will name the successors for the justices most likely to retire next—Justices John Paul Stevens, Souter and Ginsburg—is indeed important, but Toobin’s insistent reductionism of justices’ decision-making to the sole dimension of left-right ideology is far too shallow." David J. Garrow

Critical Summary

The Nine is a welcome addition to the spate of recent Supreme Court histories (see Jan Crawford Greenburg’s Supreme Conflict, 3.5 of 5 Stars May/June 2007). Informative and authoritative, Jeffrey Toobin’s account draws on exclusive interviews with the principals (one critic cited a possible breach of secrecy) and offers colorful anecdotes about the members of the Court. The most important parts of the book explore Sandra Day O’Connor’s critical swing votes, Clinton’s impeachment hearings, and the Court’s role in Bush v. Gore. "The tragedy," Toobin concludes, "was not that it led to Bush’s victory, but the inept and unsavory manner that the justices exercised their power." Only David J. Garrow, a Supreme Court historian, faulted Toobin’s "debatable opinions" and disdain for various justices. Well written, though chronologically disjointed, The Nine is, overall, a timely and important examination of the Court’s past—and its future.