Jeffrey Rosen is the president and chief executive of the National Constitution Center, a law professor at George Washington University and the legal affairs editor of the New Republic.
As the Supreme Court prepares to decide the fate of affirmative action, voting rights and same-sex marriage by the end of June, interest in the ideological and institutional fault lines among the justices remains high. Ever since Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. took the helm in 2005, a series of books and articles have examined the court in partisan terms. The standard narratives, which tend to be politically polarized, paint the conservative majority either as a group of ideologues eager to impose their policy preferences on a divided nation or as a group of principled jurists struggling to resist judicial activism on the left.
Now comes Marcia Coyle with “The Roberts Court,” an account that largely avoids these oversimplified extremes. The great strength of Coyle’s book is the depth and balance of her reporting. She interviewed several justices on background and one, Antonin Scalia, on the record. She also interviewed the lawyers and litigants on both sides of the four highest-profile cases of the Roberts era — involving affirmative action in public schools, gun rights, campaign finance and health care. By allowing all the participants to speak in their own voices, she gives us a nuanced sense of how conservative and libertarian lawyers strategically litigated these cases and transformed the law.