Patterico's Pontifications

10/1/2007

Jeffrey Toobin’s “The Nine”: Entertaining Anecdotes

Filed under: Books,General,Judiciary — Patterico @ 5:19 am



I’ve been saying some pretty nasty stuff about Jeff Toobin’s book — and I have lots more on deck — so I thought I’d give the guy a break and relate some of the amusing anecdotes I learned from the book. These stories are part of the reason I managed to enjoy the book, even though I found so much of it to be inaccurate, unreliable, exaggerated, distorted, and dishonest.

I got a real chuckle out of one anecdote in which Toobin recounts the reaction of anti-Semite Richard Nixon, upon meeting the sartorially challenged William Rehnquist:

John Dean, Nixon’s White House counsel, remembered that when he first introduced Rehnquist to the president, the then-assistant attorney general “was wearing a pink shirt that clashed with an awful psychedelic necktie, and Hush Puppies.” According to the White House tapes, after Rehnquist left, Nixon asked Dean, “Is he Jewish? He looks it. . . . That’s a hell of a costume he’s wearing, just like a clown.”

Hilarious — and I’d never heard it before.

Among passages that malign Clarence Thomas, Toobin manages to include some details that truly humanize this most friendly and outgoing of the justices. Toobin describes Thomas as “universally adored” on a personal level:

Fellow justices, law clerks, police officers, cafeteria workers, janitors — all basked in Thomas’s effusive good nature. His rolling basso laughter frequently pierced the silence of the Court’s hushed corridors. Unlike the rest of his colleagues, Thomas learned the names of all the new clerks every year, including those of his ideological adversaries, and he frequently invited the young lawyers into his chambers to chat, often for two or three hours. One year Thomas became friendly with a Stevens clerk, a lesbian whose partner was a professional snowboarder; Thomas liked the two of them so much that for a while he kept a photograph of the snowboarder on his desk. When the wife of one of his former law clerks lay dying in the hospital, Thomas and his wife spent several nights comforting the couple through the ordeal.

Thomas is also a note-passer during oral argument:

Although Thomas asked almost no questions of the lawyers at oral argument, he wasn’t silent on the bench. Thomas sat to Breyer’s right, and the two of them often whispered and joked to each other, barely muffling their frequent laughter. . . . Breyer and Thomas passed notes, too, often mocking each other’s positions in good-natured ways. “States’ rights über Alles,” Breyer might write, and Thomas, in another case, would jot, “Always for the criminal, eh?” This wasn’t feigned fellowship. It was a portrait of colleagues who genuinely cared for each other.

The one time I saw a Supreme Court argument (Justice White’s last day on the bench), I saw evidence of this. Thomas and Scalia passed notes to each other, using a runner to take the notes back and forth. Each would smile upon receiving the other’s note.

Toobin also relates a couple of wonderful quotes from John Roberts’s Reagan-era memos. For example, Warren Burger apparently requested the creation of another appellate court, to sit above the Courts of Appeals, to lighten the Supreme Court’s workload. Roberts discussed the request in a memo that included this classic line:

While some of the tales of woe emanating from the Court are enough to bring tears to the eyes, it is true that only Supreme Court justices and schoolchildren are expected to and do take the entire summer off.

Heh. I also liked this line, in a memo rejecting a Democrat congressman’s proposal for a “conference on power sharing” to “iron out the duties of each branch of government”:

There already has, of course, been a “Conference on Power Sharing.” It took place in Philadelphia’s Constitution Hall in 1787, and someone should tell [Congressman] Levitas about it and the “report” it issued.”

Classic.

There is also a heartwarming story about a party Breyer threw for Alito to commemorate his ascension to the High Court’s bench, and many more.

Even if you’re a total Supreme Court junkie like myself, there are bound to be stories you haven’t read before. These stories — and not Toobin’s ludicrous leftist arguments, factual mistakes, and distortions — are the main reason I enjoyed much of this book.

13 Responses to “Jeffrey Toobin’s “The Nine”: Entertaining Anecdotes”

  1. Needless to say Thomas’ affection for the snowboaerding couple won’t prevent him from voting against gays and lesbians.

    David Ehrenstein (b35c9c)

  2. What are Thomas and anyone doing passing notes during oral arguments? Aren’t they supposed to be paying attention? I bet the attorneys who have spent hours and hours preparing are just thrilled to see the runners passing messages around. What’s next, pulling out their PDAs during arguments to check on the Dow or the balance in their checking account?

    Acknowledging that everything looks like a nail to me, this is further evidence that oral arguments are a show, that the justices have already made up their mind how they’re going to rule.

    steve sturm (40e5a6)

  3. Needless to say Thomas’ affection for the snowboaerding couple won’t prevent him from voting against gays and lesbians.

    Needless also to say that it won’t stop people from pretending that judges who rule against a gay advocacy group in court must hate gay people.

    Glen Wishard (b1987d)

  4. “Thomas’ affection for the snowboaerding couple won’t prevent him from voting against gays and lesbians.”

    Eh, why should it? I don’t think any reasonable person doubts that Thomas’ decisions are based upon his understanding of the Constitution rather than his affection or dislike of people or groups. That’s how a principled judge operates. That he is friendly and considerate of his fellow judges and law clerks without regard to beliefs and practices with which he might personally disagree merely suggests that he is also a good person.

    (Whether allowing a question of social policy to be debated and determined by the legislative process is a decision “against” gays and lesbians is a separate issue.)

    Sam II (add49f)

  5. I found his take on Kennedy’s melodramatic tendencies hilarious. I’d always thought his writing more than a bit overwrought, and now I realize it’s a pretty common perception.

    Itsme (81b460)

  6. “I’m sure you undertsand that I have to vote against your very existence because it’s the principle of the thing. And you know how much I like you and your girlfriend, because you know your place.

    David Ehrenstein (b35c9c)

  7. Legal votes are not policy votes, David.

    They’re just not.

    Patterico (2a8eaa)

  8. Ah, but once you’ve misrepresented the legal issue, Patterico, the rest is easy.

    SPQR (6c18fd)

  9. David does not misrepresent. He looks at the impact and reasons backward. Which may make him wrong but not dishonest. And not necessarily “wrong” on the broader issue — the Supreme Court has had no qualms about setting policy for a lot of pet issues from police procedure (Miranda) to infanticide (Roe v. Wade).

    nk (7d4710)

  10. 60’S sartorial elegance …
    As someone old enough to have worn a coat and tie during the Nixon (and Johnson) Presidency, I can assure you that “clown outfit” applied to more than Asst. AG’s. If you wish to check, find a videotape of something like Hollywood Squares, or the original Dating Game.

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  11. “I’m sure you undertsand that I have to vote against your very existence because it’s the principle of the thing.

    Wow! I thought abortion and death penalty cases were the only ones where an individual’s existence were at stake. You learn something every day.

    daleyrocks (906622)

  12. One thing that is never mentioned by the news media is that Justice Thomas spends much of his free time speaking to troubled kids in various institutions. He truly is a decent man.

    fouse, gary c (3b4c3f)

  13. “I’m sure you undertsand that I have to vote against your very existence because it’s the principle of the thing. And you know how much I like you and your girlfriend, because you know your place.“

    Is this supposed to be a quotation from somebody? Being as it is in quotation marks, and all?

    Glen Wishard (b1987d)


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