Happily, Coughlin has given up crude psycho-violence (The Stalking Man, Day of Wrath)--for an obvious but sturdy novel about legal politics, Supreme-Court-style. The most important man on Coughlin's fictional Court is Justice Brian Howell, a ""swing man"" whose vote often decides the balance between the four liberal and four conservative justices. But then Howell is totally incapacitated by a stroke--so the White House is determined to replace Howell with a justice who'll take the President's side on one big issue: the future of the Electoral College. And four other big cases are facing the incomplete Court: legalized suicide for the terminally ill; a first-amendment revision that will hogtie the newspapers; a racial quota case in the heavily black D.C. police department (the whites want a quota); and a huge antitrust case that could lead to the dismantling of GM. This replacement--someone who can get through the Senate confirmation and still uphold the president's position on the Constitutional amendments--won't be easy to find. But well-heeled lawyer Jerry Green is chosen to lead the search, and he soon finds himself busy at Michigan State U.: checking up on brilliant Dean Pentecoste (the strongest contender for the bench), reflecting on his own past, encountering an old flame, and pondering the integrity/ambition dilemma. (The snaky Dean tries to bribe Jerry with an academia job.) Predictable, noble choices ensue--but this is a well-meaning, knowledgeable theme-novel, with interesting details on those slightly futuristic Supreme Court cases.