I’ve read a book about the U.S. Supreme court, The Nine by Jeffrey Toobin. It is a very well written and interesting book about the justice’s on the court. Frankly, I came away from the reading thinking how our highest court has become an embarrassment to the legal system. It was intended to be an equal branch of the American system with the legislative and executive. It was supposed to be an objective branch whose role primarily was to require compliance with our Constitution and the laws of the country. George Bush, who was a president who did more harm to our country then any president in history, along with the complacency of the legislature, successfully did what FDR was never able to do. This book confirms that Bush packed the court with people who had a specific political agenda of what they believed was best for the country no matter what the Constitution, our laws or their oath of office. They legislated political outcomes. The Justice's elected George Bush when he ran against Gore because the majority wanted Bush and not Gore. This book demonstrates that this court represents what is wrong with a judicial system in which judges ignore the constitution and laws to carry out the will of those in power.
At his confirmation hearing Chief Justice Roberts told the Senators: "Judges are like umpires. Umpires don’t make the rules; they apply them." But, once on the bench, this book persuasively shows that he and primarily Justice’s Thomas, Alito, Scalia set about to legislate their particular political and philosophical belief's not as umpires but as legislators. This is a very informative book that will upset anyone who cares about our judicial system and our country.
Here are some excerpts from the book I thought particularly worth repeating:
- Justice Kennedy: "Sometimes you don’t know if you are Caesar about to cross the Rubicon or Captain Queeg cutting your own tow line."
- Justice Brennan used to ask his law clerks: "What is the most important law at the Supreme court? Puzzled they would guess wrong and he would say: "Five! The law of five! With five votes you can do anything around here"
- Justice Robert H. Jackson’s opinion in West Virginia Board of Education vs Barbette is elequent in stating what our constitution requires: "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein."
- When asked what his favorite case is, Thomas has always cited a 1966 case where he wrote the majority opinion which overturned a verdict for an injured railroad worker. He says "it was almost inconsequential. It was a fun little opinion. I went back into the history of trains. It was a little case that didn’t matter to anyone." The book points out that in fact the case was significant because it made it much harder for railroad workers to recover for injuries doing dangerous work. Years after the decision, the plaintiff in the case, William Hiles, was still bedridden most of the time" (Isn't this a classic example of the Bush concept of what right wing conservatives mean when they describe themselves as "a compassionate conservatives"? Quick to pull the handle that controls the electric chair, ready to deny the injured any remedy and content with imposing their own religious viewpoints on everyone else. That's their idea of "compassion.")
- Rehnquist on his role in the Clinton impeachment hearing cited a line from Gilbert and Sullivan Ionantha "I did nothing in particular and I did it very well."
- Justice O'connor's husband John, had a card printed with his name that said "Tigers tamed, bars emptied, orgies organized."
- Joseph Klick Miami lawyer who argued before the court in the Gore/Bush Florida vote controversy called Justice Stevens "Justice Brennan" (Even though Brennan had been off the court for ten years and had been dead three). A moment later he called Justice Souter "Justice Breyer" who quipped "I’m Justice Souter. You better cut that out." Scalia then said: "Mr Klick? I’m Scalia."
- Having lunch in Massachusetts a stranger came up to Justice Souter and said "you’re Justice Breyer – Right? Souter decided not to make a big deal about the mistake and just nodded yes and then the person said "Justice Breyer, what’s the best thing about being on the Supreme Court? And Souter after thinking awhile said: "Well, I’d have to say it’s the privilege of serving with Justice Souter."
If you are prepared to learn the good, the bad and the ugly about the highest court in the land and be disgusted, then this is the book for you.