THE NINE by Jeffrey Toobin


Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court
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Abortion, gay rights, disputed presidential elections and wartime powers have appeared on the Supreme Court docket under chief justices Rehnquist and Roberts, but this occasionally enlightening, often injudicious account focuses more on prickly egos.

CNN senior legal analyst and New Yorker staff writer Toobin (Too Close to Call: The Thirty-Six-Day Battle to Decide the 2000 Election, 2001, etc.) raises red flags in noting that he conducted confidential interviews “with the justices and more than seventy-five of their law clerks.” All the justices—even press-hostile Clarence Thomas and Washington-allergic David Souter? Since these interviews were “on a not-for-attribution basis,” how can we judge, for example, the claim that Sandra Day O’Connor found the presidency of George W. Bush “arrogant, lawless, incompetent, and extreme”? This vague sourcing is regrettable, because much about the justices’ personalities and deliberations in the last 20 years appears on the record. Moreover, Toobin displays a gift for narrative and abundant insights into how justice—and justices—get made. We learn that in the waning years of the Rehnquist Court, the justices’ isolation meant they influenced each other not in chambers, but in public questions during oral arguments. Over the last two decades, Toobin informs us, even the most conservative justices have grown increasingly tolerant toward gay clerks. In another tidbit, we hear that Mario Cuomo tantalized Bill Clinton with his interest in the vacancy that ultimately went to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Despite periodic attempts at fairness, Toobin’s views color his characterizations. Liberal Stephen Breyer has “an almost messianic belief in the power of reason,” while more right-leaning justices are dismissed as crusty (the late Byron White) or “famously pugnacious” (Antonin Scalia). Toobin’s surprise that Dubya would appoint justices of his own ideological stripe seems disingenuous. Surely such a well-informed writer is aware of the confirmation reverses suffered by LBJ and Nixon in the 1960s and, at a greater extreme, FDR’s court-packing scheme of 1937.

A smart brief about the high court that suffers from sometimes dubious and occasionally inadmissible historical evidence.

Pub Date: Sept. 18th, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-385-51640-2
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2007

Kirkus Interview
Jeffrey Toobin
August 2, 2016

On February 4, 1974, Patty Hearst, a sophomore in college and heiress to the Hearst family fortune, was kidnapped by a ragtag group of self-styled revolutionaries calling itself the Symbionese Liberation Army. The saga of Patty Hearst highlighted a decade in which America seemed to be suffering a collective nervous breakdown. Based on more than a hundred interviews and thousands of previously secret documents, Jeffrey Toobin’s new book American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst thrillingly recounts the craziness of the times (there were an average of 1,500 terrorist bombings a year in the early 1970s). Toobin portrays the lunacy of the half-baked radicals of the SLA and the toxic mix of sex, politics, and violence that swept up Patty Hearst and re-creates her melodramatic trial. American Heiress examines the life of a young woman who suffered an unimaginable trauma and then made the stunning decision to join her captors’ crusade. Or did she? “Despite the lack of participation from Hearst, this is a well-informed, engaging work from a highly capable author,” our reviewer writes. View video >


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