ABC News correspondent Jan Crawford Greenburg’s long-awaited new book, Supreme Conflict: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court, hit the shelves this week. It promises to give court-watchers a behind-the-scenes look at the personal dramas of the Rehnquist Court, including tales of backroom negotiations between Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice O’Connor in which the former urged the latter to resign first. But the book contains more than just entertaining anecdotes for Supreme Court groupies. It also documents what Greenburg calls “The Cause Bush Did Justice To,” namely, his quest to move the court rapidly to the right. Calling the Roberts Court “the most conservative Supreme Court in half a century” and Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito “two of the most conservative justices to reach the court in many years,” Greenburg notes that the effect of Bush administration’s judicial nominations “will be felt for decades to come.”
In addition to describing the already successful campaign by the Bush administration to pack the courts with ideologues, Greenburg makes some other intriguing observations about the balance of the court and the controversy of its recent nominations. First, she points to Justice Thomas as “a significant force in shaping the direction and decisions of the court for the past 15 years.” Challenging the idea that Justice Thomas is a “dutiful apprentice” of Justice Scalia, Greenburg insists that Justice Thomas has consistently and strongly pulled the court to the right, often even more than Justice Scalia. Greenburg observes that Justice Thomas’s influence might have caused Justice O’Connor to move to the left in an attempt to maintain balance on the court. If true, it may suggest that Justice Kennedy will similarly moderate his stance in close cases now that he is confronted with the newly realigned Roberts Court.
The second interesting tidbit revealed in the book is the reported opposition of Alberto Gonzales to the Harriet Miers nomination. In what turned out to be eerily prescient warnings to the president, Gonzales expressed his fear that conservatives would “revolt” against Miers because she lacked a proven ultraconservative record. Obviously, the president didn’t heed the advice, but maybe the Attorney General will let us borrow his crystal ball for our next office party.
All in all, the new book is sure to be a must-read for court-watchers, litigators, law students, and anyone concerned about the hijacking of the federal courts by agenda-driven rightwingers. Be sure to pick up a copy.