Nine Black Robes by Joan Biskupic

Nine Black Robes: Inside the Supreme Court's Drive to the Right and Its Historic ConsequencesNine Black Robes: Inside the Supreme Court’s Drive to the Right and Its Historic Consequences by Joan Biskupic
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a thoroughly researched and very informative work. I learned a great deal about the Supreme Court and the justices even though I’m an attorney and a member of the Supreme Court bar. I’m the target audience for this book, I suppose, but even so I found it difficult to read and hold my interest. It is very dense and technical, all too much like law school, or like my research on the one case I had that went to the Supreme Court. The book is almost written like a textbook, with detailed descriptions of the procedural history of the many cases it discusses. I found it dry, but I also found myself getting deeply distracted, arguing to myself about the theories, approaches and questions raised in the book on many issues. I kept skipping ahead to avoid getting bogged down.

Another problem I had with it was the clear liberal bias displayed by the author. This is not unexpected since she reports for CNN, but I still expected a more balanced approach. One small example is how she refers to a woman’s right an abortion as a right granted by the Supreme court a half century ago. The problem is that she assumes the Supreme Court has the power to grant rights, constitutional ones at that. The conservatives clearly disagree. Their view, a reasonable one, is that rights either already existed in the constitution when written (or when the Amendment was written) or is granted by legislatures through the democratic process. Is it a right at all? Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for a woman’s right to an abortion. I wish all the states were as enlightened as California where I live. Two of my grandchildren would not exist had Roe v. Wade not been the law at the time. They were conceived in test tubes in Texas and carried by surrogates. Surrogates do not sign up for suicide missions. They require certain knowledge that they can have an abortion if needed for their own health, a certainty that does not now exist in Texas. No abortions had to take place, but the right to an abortion had to have existed in order for those surrogates to have volunteered and hence my grandchildren to be born. The right to lifers are actually preventing wanted, healthy babies from being born in exchange for more unwanted, often drug or alcohol damaged, babies being born. But I digress. The fact is that the conservatives, at least some of them sincerely, say that life begins at conception and any abortion is baby murder. It is a widely help belief throughout the world and the author treats that as a piffling straw argument. She treats virtually every conservative position as obviously wrong. She also focuses too much on Donald Trump rather than the court, although she gives fair warning in the subtitle.

At bottom, the book is a worthy piece of scholarship and reporting with a considerable amount of inside court scoop not available elsewhere. It deserves its four stars.

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