Seven minutes after President Obama put his signature to a landmark national health care insurance program, a lawyer in the office of Florida GOP attorney general Bill McCollum hit a computer key, sparking a legal challenge to the new law that would eventually reach the nation’s highest court. Health care is only the most visible and recent front in a battle over the meaning and scope of the U.S. Constitution. The battleground is the Supreme Court, and one of the most skilled, insightful, and trenchant of its observers takes us close up to watch it in action.
The Roberts court, seven years old, is at the center of a constitutional maelstrom. Four landmark decisions - concerning health care, money in elections, guns at home, and race in schools - reveal the fault lines in a conservative-dominated court, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr.
Marcia Coyle’s brilliant inside account of the high court captures how those cases began - the personalities and conflicts that catapulted them onto the national scene - and how they ultimately exposed the great divides among the justices, such as the originalists versus the pragmatists on guns and the Second Amendment, and corporate speech versus human speech in the controversial Citizens United campaign case. Most dramatically, her analysis shows how dedicated conservative lawyers and groups are strategizing to find cases and crafting them to bring up the judicial road to the Supreme Court with an eye on a receptive conservative majority. The Roberts Court offers a ringside seat at the struggle to lay down the law of the land.
©2013 Marcia Coyle (P)2013 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"Marcia Coyle has written the go-to book for anyone who wants to understand the most conservative Supreme Court that most Americans alive today can remember. Her acute focus on key 5-4 cases not only shows us the Roberts court in action but also explains how conservative social movements have made their voices heard at the court on issues that matter to us all." (Linda Greenhouse, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Becoming Justice Blackmun)
"One of the best Supreme Court books in years; a wise and deeply reported inside look at the court, its struggles, and the justices themselves." (Bob Woodward, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Brethren)
"In this fast-paced narrative, Marcia Coyle brings alive the four recent cases that illuminate the emerging agenda of the Roberts court. Everyone gets a voice in Coyle’s story: litigants, lawyers, clerks on the court, even the justices themselves. In an understated but powerful voice, she also implies that the conservative majority on the Roberts Court is pursuing an agenda as broad and active as any Court in our history. Coyle concisely captures the complexities of constitutional jurisprudence." (Jack Rakove, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Original Meanings)
I am an avid eclectic reader.
Marcia Coyle is the national law Journal’s long time Chief Washington correspondent. She is an attorney and brings 25 years of reporting on the high court to her book. The great strength of Coyle’s book is the depth and balance of her reporting. She interviewed several justices on background and one Antonin Scalia on the record. She also interviewed the lawyers and litigants on both sides of the four highest profiled cases, of enormous consequence of 5-4 decisions, of the Roberts court from 2007 to 2009. By allowing all the participants to speak in their own voices, she gives us a nuanced sense of how conservative and libertarian lawyers strategically litigate the cases and transformed the law. Coyle supplies useful and colorful context about the litigants, lawyers, politics and legal precedent. She is especially good on the maneuvering of various special interest groups to identify and guide particular cases through the legal system, all with a hopeful eye toward eventual Supreme Court review. Coyle covers in detail a number of key cases these are:
1. Heller—the right to bear arms-2nd amendment case.
2. Louisville & Seattle school boards racial diversity plans—affirmative action in public schools
3. Citizens United- where free speech and campaign finance law collide
4. The Affordable Health care Act
The book is an excellent account 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 courts continually shifting center of gravity and the peculiar burden that rest with the Chief Justice. Roberts is a conservative, what he is after eight tumultuous years, is the center of gravity on a court whose members range from hard-right to hard –left. Coyle points out the paramount roles played by perhaps the courts two least known justices. With the 2005 retirement of Sandra day O’Connor, Justice Anthony Kennedy became the swing vote, and her replacement Samuel Alito moved the court dramatically to the right. The republican’s have appointed all the Chief Justice since 1953 when the last democrat Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson of Kentucky died, he was appointed by President Harry Truman. What I liked best about the book was that Coyle lets the facts and the Justices own words speak for themselves. What I have learned from this book and several other books about the Supreme Court is how important the court is to our daily lives and how important it is to apply great care in the selection of the justices. I highly recommend this book. Bernadette Dunne did an excellent job narrating the book.
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