Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Recommended: Jan Crawford Greenberg's "Supreme Conflict"

I just finished reading Jan Crawford Greenbergs' "Supreme Conflict." I thought it was an outstanding read.

The book, which is written in a way that is accessible for a general audience, is a survey of the attempt by conservative Republicans to re-direct the court going back to Ronald Reagan's appointment of Sandra Day O'Connor. Ms. Greenberg regards these efforts to have largely failed until recently due to the leftward drift of Justice O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy, as well as the unmitigated disaster, from a conservative vantage point, of the appointment of David Souter to the Court. However, she contends that President George W. Bush's appointments of John Roberts and Samuel Alito may have succeeded in bringing about what his predecessors failed to accomplish.

While it might be argued that Ms. Greenberg (not to mention conservative partisans) overstate the liberalism of Justices O'Connor and Kennedy, it is clear that they fell short of conservative ideals, even while they moved the court more to the center and away from the extremes of the Warren Court.

This reviewer would quibble with Ms. Greenberg's characterization of the Bush v. Gore decision as deviating from the majority's philosophies of federalism and judicial restraint. To the contrary, the extra-legal power grab by the Florida Supreme Court left them with little choice. Otherwise, the book is outstanding. A couple of highlights:

1) The revelations related to Justice Clarence Thomas' role on the court. Justice Thomas has frequently been portrayed as Antonin Scalia's puppet, but Ms. Greenberg shows, relying heavily on the now released papers of Justice Harry Blackmun, that Justice Scalia frequently followed the leadership of his younger colleague.

2) The nuanced explanation of the disagreements of conservatives over the failed Harriet Miers nomination. Conservatives divided into two groups: those who wanted guaranteed results such as an overturning of Roe v. Wade; and those who wanted a commitment to judicial restraint. Those are two very distinct conservative approaches to the judiciary, and, because the approaches frequently lead to similar results, many non-conservatives fail to appreciate the important differences.

I thought the book made for an enjoyable read and highly recommend it.


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