In her first book, the National Law Journal’s longtime chief Washington correspondent examines the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court, seven years after the appointment of the youngest chief justice since John Marshall.
Along with her credentials as a lawyer, Coyle brings 25 years of reporting on the high court to this careful unpacking of select, enormously consequential, 5-4 decisions, supplying useful and colorful context about the litigants, lawyers, politics and legal precedent. She’s especially good on the maneuvering of various special interest groups to identify, frame and shepherd particular cases through the legal system, all with a hopeful eye toward eventual Supreme Court review. These ingredients come together most successfully in her smooth discussion of the right to bear arms at issue in Heller, the most important Second Amendment case ever, her handling of two cases emerging from the racial diversity plans of school boards in Louisville and Seattle, and her treatment of the widely controversial Citizens United, where free speech and campaign finance law collided. Perhaps the court’s recent momentous ruling on the Affordable Health Care Act accounts for the deficiencies of this least-satisfying chapter. There’s a richer story to tell, and Coyle doesn’t appear to have all the goods. Otherwise, this is the best popular account so far of the Roberts-led court, about the varied background and clashing philosophies of the justices, the careful crafting of arguments to secure five votes, the court’s continually shifting center of gravity and the peculiar burden that rests with the chief justice. Coyle clearly disapproves of the court’s conservative bent, but she gives all sides a fair, respectful hearing and demonstrates her own reverence for the institution.
A careful, informed analysis of the origins, progress and disposition of the complex, high-stakes legal disputes that find their way to the court.