When The Brethren came out in 1979, it was a blockbuster for two reasons: Previously those who had worked at the Supreme Court kept mum about what had gone on there, and we learned that the justices didn't think very much of Chief Justice Warren Burger. Instead of seeing court opinions as fine works of excellent legal minds, those opinions now began to look more like "opinions" of those with differing philosophies. Since then, we have been blessed with many back-stage looks at the Supreme Court.
In The Nine, Jeffrey Toobin finishes undressing the Supreme Court so that we see it as an extension of political partisanship, rather than as the guardian of the Constitution and liberty against the tyranny of government. What's changed? It's pretty simple: Presidents have gotten good at finding nominees who will continue to adhere to the president's philosophy after joining the court. Previously, conservatives turned into liberals and vice versa. That won't happen in the future.
To me, two parts of the book were most revealing: the political partisanship among Republican Supreme Court justices involved in Bush v. Gore in wanting to make President's Bush's first election look as free of taint as possible (now, that's a good trick if you can do it), and the willingness of the Roberts-led court to reverse earlier decisions without even bothering to observe that they are doing so.
If you want certain kinds of precedents that control behavior (on abortion, minority rights, school prayer, and executions), just vote for a president who has the same views . . . and keep that president in office for 8 years so that he or she can appoint a majority that agrees with you.
It's a tawdry end to what was once an important branch of government.
Mr. Toobin is to be commended for being able to attract so many people to interview with him. It's a lot of work to gather so many details about the personalities, backgrounds, and decisions of the Supreme Court in recent years (mostly focusing on the time during which the same nine justices served without change until the death of Chief Justice Rehnquist).
I have had enough interaction with one of the justices reported on to be able to say that Mr. Toobin's account of that justice's characteristics seems right on. I'm assuming that the others are equally accurate from having seen how well this one was done.
The book does have a weakness: I thought that Mr. Toobin was a little too narrow in his assessments of the impact of past decisions. For instance, in Bush v. Gore, Mr. Toobin accurately points out that even if Gore had prevailed in the case the Florida election had already been certified. I think that's too narrow a view: With a Gore win (if accompanied by a win in the recount), I believe that the legal process would have found a way to reverse the certification and bring Al Gore to the White House. Otherwise, it would be clear that justice wasn't being done.