The Roberts Court: The Struggle for the Constitution

Marcia Coyle. Simon & Schuster, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-1-4516-2751-0
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Personalities and values as much as constitutional interpretations shove the Supreme Court rightward in this complex, nuanced history of recent decisions. National Law Journal correspondent Coyle focuses on four landmark rulings—on Seattle and Louisville, Ky., school desegregation policies; a Washington, D.C., gun-control ordinance; the Citizens United campaign finance case; and Obamacare. She follows each case from its inception, usually as a vehicle handcrafted by right-wing lawyers to advance conservative causes, through oral arguments and the final issuance of opinions. Her narrative traces the court’s ideological shift under Chief Justice John Roberts, as a new majority of doctrinaire conservatives (plus erratic conservative Anthony Kennedy) rides roughshod over precedent and legislation on issues from affirmative action to First Amendment rights and government regulation. But she also paints a fine-grained portrait, based on vivid reportage of court proceedings and copious interviews with participants and insiders, of the personal enmities that structure the court’s deliberations and how litigants exploit them; we see jurists straining for meticulous legal formulas to clothe what are essentially gut convictions. (The debates between “originalists” and “pragmatists” over the Second Amendment are especially confused.) Coyle’s canny account of the court shows how even the highest reaches of constitutional reasoning are shadowed by dogma and bias. 16-page b&w photo insert. Agent: Rafe Sagalyn, Sagalyn Literary. (May 7)
Reviewed on: 03/18/2013
Release date: 05/07/2013
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