three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
28-May-June-2007
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The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court

A-Supreme ConflictAfter a series of Supreme Court confirmations that had the conservative movement reeling (Anthony Kennedy and David Souter, nominated by Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, respectively, are seen by the right as disastrous choices), much was made of the current President Bush’s desire to even the score. After the somewhat surprising retirement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and the imminent departure of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, the president seized the opportunity. Drawing on her contacts inside the Court and close to the action, Jan Crawford Greenburg details the rise of Justices Roberts and Alito to the bench, as well as the behind-the-scenes scuttling of the Harriet Miers nomination and the real story behind O’Connor’s decision to leave the bench before Rehnquist, her Stanford law school classmate.
Penguin. 368 pages. $27.95. ISBN: 1594201013

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"There are so many standout stories in Supreme Conflict that the book is an absolute must-read for anyone interested in the court. … Whether Alito and the new chief justice will make the Roberts Court more conservative remains to be seen, but Supreme Conflict is a supremely informative and reliable insider’s guide to the U.S. high court." David J. Garrow

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"Supreme Conflict is filled with details that transform the business of Washington politics into a gripping narrative. The book is a must-read for court watchers and political junkies alike." Gina Barton

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Greenburg’s book delivers—not in major new ideas or big-picture revelations but in the details. … Still, it’s worth noting the trade-offs this sort of reporting entails—in this case, perhaps, access in return for the decorous handling of [retired Justice Sandra Day] O’Connor’s disclosure—especially in light of the court’s guarded norms." Emily Bazelon

Chicago Tribune 3 of 5 Stars
"[Greenburg] has spoken to principal players in the administration and the nominees, and even those who followed these matters closely will enjoy her lively account. … But Greenburg also has relatively little to say about the substance of what the court does." Jack Rakove

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"Supreme Conflict gives us a fascinating look at dynamics within the court, showing how personalities and ideology can affect alliances and debates. … There is little real hard news in the volume, however, and it falls short in its discussion of the issues at stake with the new Supreme Court." Michiko Kakutani

Critical Summary

In Supreme Conflict, ABC News legal correspondent Jan Crawford Greenburg examines our judicial branch’s highest court, parlaying her all-access pass into an analysis that reveals one of the most volatile periods in the Court’s history. Greenburg moves the story along with engaging prose and salts the book with little-known details and anecdotes, though critics wonder if the author’s unprecedented access might have come at the cost of revealing even deeper truths about the book’s subjects. Jack Rakove of the Chicago Tribune questions Greenburg’s supposition that President Bush’s choices will have far-reaching consequences and asserts that her "conclusion that the Roberts and Alito appointments may seal the character of the court ‘over the next three to four decades’ overreaches." Despite some critics’ reservations, Supreme Conflict provides fresh insights into the powerful judicial branch.

Cited by the Critics

The Brethren Inside the Supreme Court | Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong (1979): The Warren Burger U.S. Supreme Court offered the authors an inside look at the Court; here, for the first time, they depict how the Court and its practices affect all areas of American society.