Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

60 Years of High Court History in One Luncheon

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

60 Years of High Court History in One Luncheon

Article excerpt

JEFFREY TOOBIN: Author and legal analyst says the judiciary has moved right


A quick but insightful tour through the past 60 years of the United States Supreme Court provided the center of author and legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin's speech Tuesday at a sold-out fundraising luncheon for the Library Foundation for Sarasota County.

The upshot: The Supreme Court, which under Earl Warren in the 1960s aggressively pushed a liberal agenda, has moved dramatically to the right. The John Roberts court of today, which, while split five Republicans to four Democrats, bears little resemblance even to the courts of the Richard Nixon administration.

Nixon's appointments of Warren Burger, Harry Blackmun, Lewis Powell and William Rehnquist may have marked a shift in the Republican vs. Democrat head count, but the court's decisions in the 1970s did not reflect the political views of the administration.

"In the '70s, the Supreme Court justices were nearly as liberal as in the '60s," said Toobin, citing cases involving freedom of the press, affirmative action, the death penalty and most significantly, Roe v. Wade, decisions that would be "unthinkable for today's Republican Party."

It wasn't until Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980 that the court began the turn to the right evident today.

Toobin spiked his tour through recent decades of court history with anecdotes about the justices, including what he said was "a question much on your mind: Who's my favorite justice?"

The answer: Justice David Souter, a George Bush appointee who served on the court from 1990 to 2009.

"David Souter was just so delightfully and truly weird," said Toobin. "He lived a 19th-century, even an 18th-century existence," eschewing computers and even electric lights, preferring to move his chair from place to place in his office to take advantage of the changing light through the window. …

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