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THE CHIEF by Joan Biskupic


The Life and Turbulent Times of Chief Justice John Roberts

by Joan Biskupic

Pub Date: March 26th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-465-09327-4
Publisher: Basic

Digging into the life career of the elusive chief justice.

CNN legal analyst Biskupic, who was the Supreme Court correspondent at the Washington Post and has written biographies on Sonia Sotomayor, Antonin Scalia, and Sandra Day O’Connor, is perfectly positioned to dissect the first decade-plus tenure of Chief Justice John Roberts (b. 1955). Appointed by President George W. Bush in 2005 after the sudden death of William Rehnquist, Roberts, at only age 50, was chosen for his conservative bona fides, his Ivy League education, the many cases he had argued before the Supreme Court, and his resistant views on affirmative action and voting rights, among other expressed opinions. Indeed, in his general approach to law, Roberts has proven that he is, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg declared, “born conservative.” Yet he has also made some intriguing decisions—e.g., finding the core of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare—the provision upholding the individual insurance mandate—constitutional in the watershed case National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (2012). While his 2013 Selby County v. Holder decision “eviscerating a key section of the Voting Rights Act” addressed what he perceived as the “failure of racial remedies in America”—as Biskupic writes, it “marked the first time since the 19th century that the Supreme Court struck down a civil rights law protecting people based on race”—he seems, on the basis of other rulings, concerned that his court is delineated solely along political lines. After Scalia’s death in February 2016, the court was left without a successor for more than 400 days thanks to political maneuvering and the Republican blocking of President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland—a difficult period for the court. As the author demonstrates in her incisive analysis, the 5-4 “conservative-liberal fault line” has prevailed—e.g., in the upholding of Donald Trump’s Muslim ban.

A thorough, albeit somewhat premature, biographical portrait.