SCOTUS book worth a read?

November 24, 2008
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From IL reporter Michael Hoskins:  

As you might expect, we like to read and write here at Indiana Lawyer. Perusing lawsuits, caselaw, court opinions, and legal news in general is all part of the job reporting on the Hoosier legal community, and that leads to checking out legal books and blogs that we might not be writing a story about.

Among the books piled up with bookmarks already inserted mid-point are John Grishman’s “The Summons,” Barack Obama’s “The Audacity of Hope,” John Grogan’s “Marley & Me,” and a couple readings related to my weekly church class. A recent find that’s jumped into that reading pile is The Washington Post’s “Supreme Court in Review 2009,” highlighting 15 of the court’s major cases and decisions from this past year’s term. Those in tune with that docket might recall three Hoosier cases hitting the high court – Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, No. 07-21, that involved Indiana’s voter ID law; U.S. v. Efrain Santos, No. 06-1005, that involved the federal money laundering statute; and Ahmad Edwards v. State of Indiana, No. 07-208, that involved a mentally ill person’s Sixth Amendment right to represent himself at trial.

Only a third of the trio got an in-depth look (Crawford), while the other two – Edwards and Santos – made it into a timeline of the decisions near the book’s end. While those three are the only cases with direct Indiana ties, all the decisions impact our state and federal courts’ decision making and our practicing legal community.

Page 243 is where the Crawford coverage begins; it goes on for 29 pages with majority opinion excerpts, dissent highlights, Washington Post coverage, and some unattributed legal commentary. All involves the 65-page decision from April 28 that didn’t have a clear majority but upheld the state’s voter ID law. The three-page commentary portion includes a rehash of the case, procedural history, and specific passages from the writing justices. Comments are scattered throughout like a note about authoring Justice John Paul Stevens who “worked hard to avoid a 5-4 split to diminish partisanship surrounding the Court’s opinions on electoral issues”; and how one portion of the dissent is “especially scornful” about Indiana’s argument that its own mismanagement of voter ID rolls could lead to rules creating more voter burdens. A concluding comment is how the most curious aspect involves the majority upholding the law and any possible burdens despite its concession that in-person fraud has never been an issue here, and that perhaps the court would have considered differently a more tailored request for relief.

Those promoting this book point out that the Post’s “compelling coverage” puts the decisions into present day context, and also “clarifies and explains how the decisions will affect and impact each of us.” The only issue that bothered me was with the “commentary” portions, which the book introduction describes as “commentary by legal experts” but nowhere lists who those experts might be.

At least the paper’s stories have bylines and we know who the writing justices are. Of course, we could get that from reading the paper and court’s work as it comes out, without having to add another new release to the reading list.
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  4. Law school is social control the goal to produce a social product. As such it began after the Revolution and has nearly ruined us to this day: "“Scarcely any political question arises in the United States which is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question. Hence all parties are obliged to borrow, in their daily controversies, the ideas, and even the language, peculiar to judicial proceedings. As most public men [i.e., politicians] are, or have been, legal practitioners, they introduce the customs and technicalities of their profession into the management of public affairs. The jury extends this habitude to all classes. The language of the law thus becomes, in some measure, a vulgar tongue; the spirit of the law, which is produced in the schools and courts of justice, gradually penetrates beyond their walls into the bosom of society, where it descends to the lowest classes, so that at last the whole people contract the habits and the tastes of the judicial magistrate.” ? Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

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