An intense and accessible behind-the-bench examination of the Supreme Court's surprising drift to the center. Simon (Law/New York Law School; The Antagonists, 1989, etc.) focuses on four ideological flashpointsracial discrimination, abortion, criminal procedure, and the First Amendmentto show how Chief Justice William Rehnquist has so far failed to command a consistent conservative majority on the High Court. Since 1986, Rehnquist has endeavored to find the votes to overturn pesky civil rights precedents, including but not limited to Roe v. Wade. Antonin Scalia, Byron White, and Clarence Thomas can be counted on to advance the right wing's political agenda, but none of the other Reagan/Bush appointees (Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter) has proven to be a surefire fifth vote. Using the justices' internal memoranda, letters, notes, draft opinions, and court transcripts, Simon shows how the centrist justices' votes are sometimes the product of wrenching intellectual struggles (the devout Kennedy's decision to strike public-school commencement prayer as violating church/state separation), sometimes of personal animus (O'Connor's defection from the dump-Roe camp following Scalia's nasty attack on her professional competence). The author clearly approves of the centrists' independence and is no fan of Rehnquist, who comes off as an unprincipled activist ill-suited to consensus-building, or of Scalia, who appears egomaniacal and obnoxious. But his harshest words are saved for Thomas, ``unimpressive'' and evasive at his confirmation hearings, ``the least engaged,'' ``least influential'' justice on the bench. Court watchers may find Simon's analysis too narrowfor example, his discussion of privacy interests omits a 1986 decision upholding Georgia's antisodomy statuteand other readers will be nettled by occasional sexist references to ``Sandra'' and to female attorneys' wardrobes. But this fascinating book will restore faith in the judiciary and in the men and women who wear its robes.