Review of The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin
Rating *** 1/2
In the book The Nine, author Jeffrey Toobin examines current and past supreme Court Justices and looks at several key cases that have come before the court. There is also an in depth look at the nomination process. The book is timely because it's quite possible that President Elect Obama may have the opportunity to appoint several justices during his term in office.
I began this book with a negative impression of the Supreme Court. I've always considered it an archaic institution that needs a serious makeover. This book hasn't done anything to change my mind. I've also disagreed with many of the Court's decisions, including cases they chose not to hear. Two come to mind. Both involved aviation cases. One involved a suit against United Airlines for discrimination under the disabilities act for United's vision requirements. The second involved a suit against the FAA in an attempt to overturn the mandatory age 60 retirement for pilots. Both cases eventually resolved themselves, no thanks to the Supreme Court. The age discrimination case really ticked me off. Here they were claiming that the age 60 rule was a safety issue and should not be changed while at the same time a majority of the justices were well past the age of 60. So it's okay to hold a position on the Supreme Court of the United States and be well over 60 but it's not okay for a pilot to fly an airliner past the age of 59.
I've also disagreed with many of the decisions in cases covered in this book, including the 2000 election and their decision related to the prisoners at Guantanamo, though in the latter case they at least didn't give Bush a blank check to hold people indefinitely without charge.
Individually the justices come off as aloof and idiosyncratic. Some deserve to be there. Others, like Clarence Thomas, do not. In the case of Clarence Thomas, who should never have made it through the nomination process once word of his infidelities surfaced, here is a justice who has sat through over one hundred oral arguments and not asked a single question. Which brings up another point. Why should the justices be allowed to stay in their positions for as long as they want? How about a mandatory term limit? Why do we have to have justices deciding cases involving technology when most of them don't know how to send e-mail? Author Toobin points out that there is only one computer at the Supreme Court with Internet access.
The ideal of nine legal experts sitting together to discuss some of the most important legal issues confronting our country is a facade. Most of the opinions are written by law clerks. The justices themselves hold up in their offices like kings and queens disconnected from the populace. Justice Roberts once made the comment that judges were nothing more than umpires who simply follow the rules. Author Toobin, however, rightfully points out that this is certainly not the case for the Supreme Court justices, whose decisions end up forming the rules.
This book is one best read in increments. While thorough in its content, there is nothing connecting one chapter to the next. Still, the insights found in the book make this a worthwhile read.