Based on the title of this book, The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court (Jeffrey Toobin, 2007), I assumed that this book would expose all the murky details of life at the Court: the secret rituals, the hazing, ancient incantations, orgies, etc.
Upon realizing that this book is really a detailed history of the modern Court (primarily the Rehnquist Court, with the Roberts Court at the end of the book), I was momentarily disappointed, but I recovered fast enough to appreciate that it's a very well-written book. The introduction particularly grabbed me as being one of those really perfect introductions. In order to briefly introduce each justice, the author used the funeral of former Chief Justice Rehnquist.
Apparently upon the death of a justice, Court tradition says that their casket is carried up the steps of the Supreme Court building, while the other justices stand on the steps in order of seniority. In his narrative, as the casket passed each justice in turn, Toobin briefly introduced us to that justice. I thought it was a really effective way to begin the book.
Despite the misleading title, this book is a fairly straightforward history of the modern Court. I found myself more interested in the events earlier in the book, the ones that occurred before I was really aware of political events and milestones. Once the book reached the Clinton era, I wasn't reading with the same level of rapt attention, though I did find it interesting to read about the strange and murky selection processes of Clinton's and G. W. Bush's nominees.
The book's progress is more or less chronological, though in order to explain certain votes or decisions, the author occasionally had to jump back in time to get into each justice's personal or political motivations. Toobin used particularly big cases to explore each justice's personal history, political leanings, and their ideological places on the bench.
For example, Toobin seems particularly intrigued by Justice O'Connor, and justifiably so. She represented the swing vote on the Court for most of her tenure there, thus becoming one of the most powerful members of the Court in its modern era. Toobin used Roe v. Wade to illustrate both her political beliefs and her enormous influence in creating the legal precedent as it stands today.
I found it interesting that Toobin is clearly writing from a liberal standpoint, though it seems at times that he's trying to conceal his biases. It's clear from his word choices that he finds Justice Thomas's opinions, for example, particularly repelling, several times referring to Thomas's opinions on legal issues as "bizarre." It made me wonder whether Toobin was unable to conceal his distaste for the conservative members of the modern court (he seems to have retained some respect for former Chief Justice Rehnquist), or whether his ill-concealed liberalism was completely intentional. At any rate, he clearly abhors the composition of the court at the end of the book.
The very last chapter is a kind of postscript, apparently appended just before the book went to press. In it, Toobin speculates on the possible impact that a Democratic presidency would have on the court after the 2008 elections. Of course, we know who won in 2008, so I'd be interested to see what Toobin thinks of the recent appointment of Sonia Sotomayor and the nomination of Elena Kagan. He'll have to publish a new edition, I guess.
Recommended if you like politics and history. And if you lean liberal. Which I do.