FIRST AMONG EQUALS by Kenneth W. Starr


The Supreme Court in American Life
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Conservative crusader Starr, Javert to Bill Clinton’s Jean Valjean, examines and occasionally condemns the work of the post-Warren Supreme Court.

Starr shows rightist colors from the first sentence, recounting Thurgood Marshall’s having taken offense at his ultimately successful effort as US solicitor general to free Oklahoma City from the burdens of desegregation. Throughout his pages, he decries the recent Court’s supposed penchant for judicial activism; expresses wounded wonder at its failure to overturn Roe v. Wade, which, he holds, “was not grounded in the text or history of the Constitution” (the Court evidently believed otherwise, interpreting the right to abortion as a guaranteed species of personal privacy); and questions why Chief Justice William Rehnquist, whom he obviously admires, should have allowed such “jurisprudentially weak and irregularly born” exclusionary rules as Mapp v. Ohio to stand when they’re such a bother to law-enforcement officers everywhere. Not all is unwell in the highest court in the land, though, Starr writes, for “notwithstanding the Warren and Burger Courts’ drive toward separation”—of church and state, that is—“religious tradition continues to find its way into public life, as demonstrated by the outpouring of religious sentiment and patriotism in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.” As he moves along in his consideration of recent Court rulings, Starr ventures a few curious asides—at one point, for instance, he calls Clarence Thomas “the most intriguing and original” of the sitting justices, praise he does not elaborate on at sufficient length to sway doubtful readers. Perhaps surprisingly, he is respectful even to such members of the opposition as flag-burners, William Kunstler, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, though he naturally reserves the greatest praise for conservative icons like Antonin Scalia.

Fellow travelers will doubtless find something of worth in Starr’s characterization of the modern judiciary; other readers will be unmoved.

Pub Date: Oct. 10th, 2002
ISBN: 0-446-52756-4
Page count: 320pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2002


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