The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court

by Jeffrey Toobin

Hardcover, 2007

Call number

347.73 T



Doubleday (2007), Edition: 1, 384 pages


Bestselling author Jeffrey Toobin takes you into the chambers of the most important--and secret--legal body in our country, the Supreme Court, and reveals the complex dynamic among the nine people who decide the law of the land. Just in time for the 2008 presidential election--where the future of the Court will be at stake--Toobin reveals an institution at a moment of transition, when decades of conservative disgust with the Court have finally produced a conservative majority, with major changes in store on such issues as abortion, civil rights, presidential power, and church-state relations. Based on exclusive interviews with justices themselves, The nine tells the story of the Court through personalities--from Anthony Kennedy's overwhelming sense of self-importance to Clarence Thomas's well-tended grievances against his critics to David Souter's odd nineteenth-century lifestyle. There is also, for the first time, the full behind-the-scenes story of Bush v. Gore--and Sandra Day O'Connor's fateful breach with George W. Bush, the president she helped place in office.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member livebug
Despite its title, this book lacks much HOT JUSTICE-ON-JUSTICE action. However, dirty ol' Clarence Thomas notwithstanding, it's a pretty fascinating! I was so engrossed in the nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsberg (did everyone else know that Mario Cuomo was supposed to get her seat? !!!) while I was supposed to be watching my daughter and her next-door friend play hide-and-seek, that I had to take said friend home with a big Band-Aid leaking blood. I blame all my poor parenting on the Supreme Court, but usually it's Antonin Scalia that bears the brunt.… (more)
LibraryThing member ecw0647
some editing and additions 7/22/10

Toobin does a great job in detailing the personalities of the justices and how they shape the court. Thomas is the most interesting, perhaps. A man obviously bitter about the cards he has been dealt, he holds grudges seemingly forever, even disdaining Yale Law School, his alma mater; yet, he is very well liked and has lots of friends on and off the court. (Scalia, asked once for the difference between himself and Thomas, replied, "I am an originalist; he's a nut.) Thomas would overturn piles of precedent on principle -- he's a huge fan of Ayn Rand -- and a proponent of limiting the power of federal law, but contradictorily sponsoring law clerks who went on to provide legal justification for presidential power expansion under Bush. Go figure.

One concern I had about Thomas was the large number of gifts he accepted from very conservative organizations and people. He got the largest book deal of any justice, 1.5 million from book he wrote from Rupert Murdoch and he makes huge amounts of money in speaking engagements before conservative audiences (he refuses to speak to any audience that might be remotely unfriendly.) Breyer, on the other hand, accepts no gifts or travel from anyone. You can't tell me that getting all that money and travel from a particular political spectrum has no effect.

One of my favorite anecdotes was the inside look at the nomination of Harriet Miers in 2005 for the O'Connor seat. Bush had laid down the law against any kind of leaks. Unfortunately, as Toobin points out, leaks can often serve as a very useful way to flush out any likely problems that might arise from a decision before a commitment is made to that decision. Bush and his primary advisors, Rove, Cheney, and Card, had little idea what a Supreme Court Justice does every day. (Steven Breyer once told his son that justices spend their days reading and writing. "If you like and are good at doing homework, you'll enjoy the Supreme Cour because you'll be doing homework the rest of your life." [paraphrased quote, listened to this as an audiobook:] So they didn't expect nor look for any kind of written trail from Meiers. (Rove can be excused if he seemed a little distracted as there was a very real possibility he might be indicted in the Valerie Plume case.) Rove's first call to get approval was to James Dobson since they knew that mainstream media approval was irrelevant. It was the evangelical constituency that might make troub le. Ironically, it had been Harry Reid who had suggested Meiers and noted that her nomination would breeze through with little chance of a filibuster. Meiers had been a long friend of Bush as well as his personal attorney, she was a strong evangelical, and in any case the Bush team was looking for someone with good judgment and instincts; analysis was less important.

So they were all totally taken by surprise when the vicious attacks from the right began as soon as she had finished her acceptance of the nomination. "The president has made perhaps the most unqualified choice since Abe Fortas," was the response of one conservative. She was dismissed as a "taut, anxious, personality," wrote David Frumm. She had no judicial experience. Despite pressure from the right-wing "pro-family" groups arguing her conservative bona fides and that she would overturn Roe v Wade, and her ex-boyfriend Judge Heck's rambling denials of anything more than friendship, it soon became clear she had no ideas at all with regard to constitutional law. Her total experience had been as personal lawyers to Bush and others. Bush assumed that the Senate would fall into line behind his nomination, not realizing that by 2005 Katrina and Iraq had crippled his influence. "Trust me," was no longer enough. Conservatives wanted appellate judges with a proven written agenda. White, Powell, Warren, and Rehnquist, to name but a few, ad little judicial experience, so her lack thereof should not have been a disqualifier. As with the torrent of abuse against Gonzales a few months earlier, facts became irrelevant and some conservatives even charged she and Gonzales were closet liberals despite all evidence to the contrary. The Democrats loved every minute of it.

Meiers seemed to be on the way to confirmation even as conservative antipathy grew, when Charles Krauthammer came up with a "breathtakingly cynical" mechanism to have her exit. The Senate should demand to see privileged documents from her White House tenure. The Senate could refuse to begin confirmation hearings until they received them; the White House could refuse to produce the documents based on its privilege and Meiers could withdraw claiming she did not want to cause a violation of either the White House or Senate's privileges. Meiers, putting her client's (the president) interests first as any good lawyer would, withdrew claiming precisely what Krauthammer had suggested, that she could not afford to let Senators ask her about her work at the White House which might have viollated executive privilege. The seat went to Alito, who, ironically, had been Meiers first choice to replace O'Connor. (O'Connor herself considered the Alito choice as a direct affront.)

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LibraryThing member steadfastreader
Left-ist leaning, but still enjoyable and enlightening on some of the quirks and personalities of some of the more recent justices.
LibraryThing member Anniik
Make no mistake, this book is not an objective or non-partisan look at the Supreme Court. Don't expect it to be. Toobin has a very liberal bias. This, however, does not bother me in the least, as it's my personal opinion that truth has a liberal bias. I'm just stating the bias of this book up front, so nobody is caught by surprise if they read it on my recommendation.

This is a fascinating book that looks closely at the political breakdown of the recent Supreme Court, and how politics have affected their decisions on issues from abortion, to affirmative action, to executive power. Toobin's point seems to be that the Court is far from independent and is, like the rest of the United States, polarized by political opinion. I think he makes a very good case for that.
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LibraryThing member DeaconBernie
This has been one of the most difficult books for me read and review. Toobin has written a book filled with factual data, and for that I would give him 5 stars; but Toobin has editorialized at excessive length allowing no misunderstandings of how he felt about each of the Justices or the results of the cases that decided. This is, of course, the perrrogative of an author. Still, as stated, it was a difficult book to read and review. It is certainly written in a good style, that is informal and it is also a quick read. His descriptions of the cases are very well done. It is just unfortunate that he politicized the work… (more)
LibraryThing member figre
The standard against which all books about the Supreme Court should be measured is Woodward’s “The Brethren” – in particular, if said book purports to talk from “inside the secret world”. Woodward’s book was a success because of the situation (inside information at a time when the country was facing an uncommon crisis) as much as it was for his talent (a compelling story while keeping a relatively neutral tone.)

So, let’s put Toobin’s book up against that standard. It is a compelling story. It does a good job of introducing us to the various individuals that made up the Supreme Court during the longest period without a change in personnel in the history of the 9-justice court. And there is no doubt that the time period is a crucial point in US history with such events as the Iraq War and the 2000 election. And there is quite a bit of insider information – although it doesn’t feel as immediate as Woodward’s book. Just when it feels like we are about to learn the real inner workings of the court, the book doesn’t quite make it there. But where the book really falls short in comparison is that neutrality issue. As the book begins talking about the introduction of the new justices (Roberts and Alito), Toobin’s concerns begin to become apparent. There is no doubt that he is writing from the left and, no matter how he might try to see both sides, his leanings shade the book at times when you wish it didn’t. There is no doubt that the court shifted to the right, and the way that shift occurred may be, well, shifty. But journalism (and I take this book as a piece of journalism) shouldn’t be about getting that agenda into writing. Most of this book is good enough that the reader can draw his or her own conclusions. As they say in the court – res ipsa loquitor.
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LibraryThing member sammii507
Make no mistake, this book is not an objective or non-partisan look at the Supreme Court. Don't expect it to be. Toobin has a very liberal bias. This, however, does not bother me in the least, as it's my personal opinion that truth has a liberal bias. I'm just stating the bias of this book up front, so nobody is caught by surprise if they read it on my recommendation.

This is a fascinating book that looks closely at the political breakdown of the recent Supreme Court, and how politics have affected their decisions on issues from abortion, to affirmative action, to executive power. Toobin's point seems to be that the Court is far from independent and is, like the rest of the United States, polarized by political opinion. I think he makes a very good case for that.
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LibraryThing member Angelic55blonde
This book is a fairly thorough look at the modern Supreme Court. It focused on the major cases and the personalities of the justices. The author shows how politics did influence the court and how the various Presidential administrations clashed with members of the court. This book shows to the reader that the personalities of the justices does matter because it does affect how they rule on various cases.

This is a great read and it is very enlightening. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to learn more about the supreme court.
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LibraryThing member nbmars
Books about constitutional law and court cases can be abstruse or fascinating, and this book definitely falls into the latter camp. Toobin does a terrific job of weaving the stories of the personalities of the recent Supreme Court into a review of the decisions they have handled. In particular, he focuses on cases challenging Roe v. Wade, affirmative action, gay rights, executive privilege, and other issues that now divide the country.

Toobin maintains that the Constitution’s flexibility allows ideology to trump precedent. He avers “…when it comes to the incendiary matters that come before the Court, what matters is not the quality of arguments but the identity of the Justices.” Therefore, he concludes, “one factor only will determine the future of the Supreme Court: the outcome of presidential elections.” He explains how and why each of the recent Justices got the presidential nomination, and what the appointments have meant for the Court and the Country.

It is downright scary to hear Toobin’s story of how the far right, through such organizations as the Federalist Society, has successfully pushed its agenda onto the Court. Sandra Day O’Connor’s abhorrence of the direction taken by the Republican party helped push her to the left of where she started out. As a result, she took a key role in tipping decisions 5-4 toward the more liberal end of the spectrum. When she left the Court to take care of her ailing husband, the only person remaining who was even close to the “middle” was Anthony Kennedy. Justice Kennedy, however, tends to side with the conservative side of the Court.

Toobin has wonderful anecdotes to share about the Justices, although he clearly knows more about those who have been there the longest. And he didn’t seem to have many insights into the character of Clarence Thomas. But the information he does have on the Justices is riveting, and Toobin’s writing is clear, sharp, and consistently entertaining.

Verdict: Read this book!

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LibraryThing member nohablo
Detailed, thoughtful examination of the Supreme Court written in Toobin's reassuring, assertive, slightly clunky prose. Toobin doesn't have much of the searing lightning-in-brain virtuoso clarity of some of his fellow New Yorker writers (see: ETERNAL SWOONING OVER GOUREVITCH, LEVY) but he's got a plodding persistent workmanship that hammers together a (mostly) convincing -- if a little one-dimensional and ham-fisted at times -- portrait of a very human, very political Court.… (more)
LibraryThing member addunn3
Reviews the recent history of the Supreme Court. The first few chapters seem to be disjointed - no sense of organization. The last half of the book is much better as it reviews the election of 2000 and the swing of the court to the right.
LibraryThing member HollyHerndon
This is a fascinating look at the inner workings and friendships on the Court from the Reagan administration through 2007. It is as close to an insider's look as one can get. Toobin is one of the most respected experts on the Supreme Court in the country. Interviews with insiders reveal colorful anecdotes and insights into the friendships among the Justices. This is a highly readable critical resource for those interested in understanding the most powerful court in our land.… (more)
LibraryThing member doxtator
This was a fascinating revelation about the personalities of the justices--and an even more reveling portrait about the supreme importance politics now plays in determining how the Court votes. This book makes a strong case that it no longer matters what the law may or may not indicate, and that past decisions needn't be bothered with. All that matters is what the political agenda is of the party in power (The President, who does the nominating) because the justices will twist the law into whatever shape necessary to make the cases come out in the direction of the that party.

Whatever your philosophy, you'll find something in this non-fiction book to make you gasp at how things have turned out historically, and then probably get your dander up about the way things are going.
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LibraryThing member debnance
I guess I was in the mood to read about the inner workings of our government. I couldn't put this book down. The Nine is the story of the Supreme Court justices who have served on the court in the last twenty years. The brightest minds and most thoughtful judges in the country are not always chosen. Instead, wisdom is sacrified for political opinion. I was most aghast at Clarence Thomas. He rarely speaks and often votes alone, as he tends to hold opinions held by almost no one else. Not only that, but he repudiates the very system, racial quotas, that got him where he is today. I was most taken with the story of Sandra Day O'Connor who went from being a nobody judge with strikingly conservative opinions to a moderate who listened to the voice of the American people when trying to make a decision. One of my favorite reads of the year.… (more)
LibraryThing member zoomball
I listened to the audiobook and think it was very well done. This is something I never would have picked up as a book so I am pleased there is an audio version. I learned a tremendous amount about how the Court functions - something I had never really thought about since 9th grade civics class. The in depth reasoning behind decisions was informative and gave me things to think about. As for the personalities and politics, well they are pretty inescapable. I appreciated the detail the author provided about these aspects as he intertwined these issues with the eventual decisions of the Court.… (more)
LibraryThing member ftong
This account of the Supreme Court, from Rehnquist to Roberts, describes the justices' work, ideology, interactions, and personal lives. While highly informative, the book attempts to cover too much ground, sacrificing depth of coverage on any one issue.
LibraryThing member tututhefirst
This book gives a thorough view of the Rehnquist court, the appointments, rulings, and personalities. Based on reviews I have seen, your appreciation and rating for the book may depend on your politics and how you interpret the facts presented. I did not find the book as slanted as many others seemed to.

I learned a good deal about the members of the court, their backgrounds and motivations, and found it to be a worthwhile read. I will not comment further because I don't believe in using book reviews for political soapboxes.… (more)
LibraryThing member SigmundFraud
very interesting. If you want to know more about our supreme court it is a recommended read.
LibraryThing member KeithFowler
Jeffrey Toobin spends most of the book on a left wing ultra libaral tirade against the current administration. It did contain some interesting points about the current court, however, Mr Toobin spends the majority of the book on a seemingly personal vendetta against President Bush and any conservitive in site. I would like to have had a more balanced look at the court, alas this is not that book.… (more)
LibraryThing member dickcraig
I have always been fascinated with the Supreme Court. Toobin has put together a highly readable portrait of the justices and how it has evolved over time. It is one part of the presidential election that few people take notice of, yet, in many ways it affects their life the most.
LibraryThing member Greta626
Very readable; entertaining anecdotes about the personal quirks of the justices and fascinating accounts of how the current justices were chosen; the portrayal of some of the justices, such as O'Connor, seemed a bit self-serving, probably as a result of personal interviews he had with her. Overall a great read.
LibraryThing member aangeldog
Excellent study of current Supreme Court Justices
LibraryThing member dpogreba
While I mostly found the book to be an enjoyable, interesting read, I was really surprised by the poor editing. There were a number of errors, like repeated anecdotes, that stood out.
LibraryThing member JustMe869
The book's underlying premise is that, since the Regan Administration, the Federalist Society has waged a largely successful campaign to move the Supreme Court to the right. In spite of his bias, Mr. Toobin's book is an interesting read with profiles of all of the Justices since Rehnquist's appointment as Chief Justice and backgrounds to a number of prominent cases.

The decision I found most interesting was Casey in 1992. According to Mr. Toobin the Justices in the Casey decision came very close to effectively overturning Roe V Wade. Penning what was to be the majority opinion, Rehnquist wrote "The court was mistaken in Roe when it classified a woman's decision to terminate her pregnancy as a 'fundamental right'". David Souter engineered Roe's salvation by forming a coalition, first with O'Connor and then with Kennedy to uphold most of the provisions of the Pennsylvania law while still retaining a woman's right to choose.

The Nine is readable, entertaining and informative.
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LibraryThing member jontseng
Toobin benefits from extraordinary access to a fascinating topic, but on top of this he writes grippingly and provides insight. Benchmark investigative non-fiction.




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