I recently finished reading The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin. In the grand tradition of Bob Woodward’s The Brethren, Toobin’s book is quite read, even though it took me awhile to finish it (I’ve been reading other things in between, and my commuting has made reading not so easy). Toobin’s just a great writer, with a smooth writing style, and the feeling of being on the inside – and not to mention his making the law parts graspable – were definite pluses.
The book starts off with covering the odd oath blooper of the 1st Obama inauguration, tracing the parallels of the paths of President Obama and Chief Justice Roberts, and then leading to through the selections and confirmations of Justice Sotomayor and Justice Kagan, and an overview of the case of the Affordable Care Act (the Obama health care case – the big surprise of last year). The twists and turns – and the revelation that the justices are quite human in their emotions and their politics – were quite something to read about, all things considered.
And, the issues covered are horrifically timely in light of the current issues before the federal government this spring: gun control, gay rights, and judicial independence. Toobin fired up on originalism – as Justices Scalia and Thomas view it – and how it impacts stare decisis and how partisanship can be a problem (or not, depending on how one has viewed the evolution of things of the past 40 years). I kept nodding and shaking my head a lot during my reading of the book.
That Toobin closed the book on the big problem of the last several years – the obstruction toward federal judicial nominations – was really ridiculously timely, since I reached the end of the book on the same day as the NY Times had its editorial criticizing the sad state of the US Senate’s inability to vote up or down on judicial nominees and the President’s lack of hurrying up on naming nominees and better advocacy for them, causing a logjam in justice and impacting the Third Branch.
(Just to be on the soap box: the whole situation is almost like a snake eating its own tail; I’m not even sure who to blame anymore there, since the rise of hyper partisanship is making such a mess. One can’t just blame this on the Democrats’ starting the Borking or what happened to the Justice Thomas confirmation, or even what happened during the George W. Bush era; it’s getting to supremely bad levels, when the current president was picking nominees who weren’t actually partisan lightening rods and they were still being held up on confirmation. At some point, one can’t keep crying foul over the past and just get to work on the present and future – and don’t get fixated over a right wing agenda of a future. I can only hope that nomination of Srikanth “Sri” Srinivasan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit – a potential first Asian Indian American to serve as a federal appellate court judge and a potential first Asian Pacific American to serve on the D.C. Circuit – won’t become messy. Off the soap box).
Anyway, I highly recommend this latest Toobin book if you’re a Supreme Court buff or a follower of American legal history or American politics. It’s definitely worth reading.
Oh, and on a final note, I also highly recommend listening to the Terry Gross interview of Jeffrey Toobin on this book, on NPR’s “Fresh Air” – great stuff.