Ideology has always trumped precedence in the rulings of the Supreme Court of the United States, according to Jeffrey Toobin in The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court. The law does not change and necessitate new decisions. What changes are the judges. To get the decisions you want, you need to put your judges on the bench.
Toobin is a story teller with a great subject, nine people who are appointed to the highest court for life. If there is a hero to the story, it is Sandra Day O'Connor, who is appointed as first woman on the court by President Ronald Reagan. She is a lifelong moderate Republican, an Arizona friend of William Renquist, whom she eclipses in power. As the swing vote during much of her tenure, she is the most influential of justices. She always seeks to find the will of the American public's political center, not a strict interpretation of law. Her biggest mistake is her vote in Bush v. Gore. She discovers that Bush has no concern for the rule of law and the political center. His power comes from the extreme right, whom she abhors. Her traditional Republican Party has ceased to exist, and she blames Bush.
In telling the story, Toobin sprinkles the serious matter with some amusing details. I never knew that justices get to decorate their offices with paintings and sculpture from the Smithsonian's Museum of American Art. David Souter eats an apple and a cup of yogurt every day for lunch. Clarence Thomas got through an entire term without asking any questions.
A key point that Toobin makes is that the Bush administration has put more effort into focusing on the political viewpoints of its appointments that any previous administration. There is no pretense that recent appointments will weigh the merits of cases. There is to be no straying from the right wing position. Now neither reasoning nor public opinion really matter.
Readers will learn much about all the justices appointed in the past forty five years. Toobin seems to admire most of them. The Nine would be a great discussion book. There are bound to be readers who disagree.
Toobin, Jeffrey. The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court. Doubleday, 2007. ISBN 0385516401