A leading litigator engagingly explores what many readers already know: the Supreme Court votes along party lines.
In this highly knowledgeable and entirely accessible book, Zirin (The Mother Court: Tales of Cases that Mattered in America’s Greatest Trial Court, 2014) shows that what many readers thought they knew about our nation’s highest court only touched the surface. At the beginning, the author apologizes to all-knowing attorneys for his brief but comprehensive history of the court. This is not just a list of famous cases, but rather explanations of their origins and far-reaching results. Many of us knew Marbury v. Madison established judicial review, but Zirin explains how President John Adams’ “midnight appointments” at the end of his term set it off. Politically motivated decisions are not especially new; the Lochner era represented 40 years of the court tilting toward big business to strike down New Deal legislation. Zirin notes that traditional tools of judicial analysis—text, meaning, original understanding, and precedents—are supposed to be the criteria to say what the law is. The use of originalism, textualism, and natural law skews those tools, bending them to what the justice wants them to mean. The author cites Citizens United, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Bush v. Gore as modern cases of a highly partisan ilk, and he agrees with historians who claim that Dred Scott was a principal cause of the Civil War. It not only denied a slave’s humanity, but also declared the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional. The chapters on the current justices—including the Catholic Seat (five are Catholic), the Jewish (three are Jewish), the Female, the Black, and now the Latina Seat—are crisp, insightful, and spot-on.
A top-notch book about the Supreme Court. Zirin has his finger on its pulse, and he shows the rest of us how it works and how it doesn’t.