Reporter Jeffrey Toobin Tells Miami Book Fair It's Obama vs. Supreme Court

Nov 17, 2012

Credit Random House, Inc.

Jeffrey Toobin’s discussion of his latest book, The Oath: The Obama White House vs the Supreme Court, began right after the crowd for the Evening with Drs. Brian and Amy Weiss let out. Toobin is a legal analyst and reporter for CNN and The New Yorker. The room was filled with attendees, many who stayed in their seats during the intermission between events. Antonio Mora, CBS 4 Miami’s evening news anchor and a personal friend of Toobin, led the discussion, which, when focused, covered the recent history of the Supreme Court and where the court is headed in the near future.

Like Roberts and Obama, Toobin attended Harvard Law School. One of his study partners was Elena Kagan, who later became the 112th Supreme Court Justice and fourth female to serve on the high court. Toobin spoke highly of Kagan, though he noted her interest in hunting was a bit odd given what he knows of her, “Who knew she liked to shoot small animals?” He laughed. Mora and Toobin discussed some of the famous people they knew before moving the discussion to more serious matters, “Oprah is the best,” said Toobin, “when she walks into a room, things just stop.” And, “The problem with Wolf is that he loves to see himself on television more than anyone else does.” “Oprah used to work out in the same gym I went to in Chicago with Barack, I mean President Obama,” Mora answered, “she didn’t exactly look her best then.”  “Yes, but that was never her most successful endeavor,” Toobin answered The relationship between Obama and Roberts, Toobin claims, has been contentious since before either man held their current office. It all began back when George HW Bush nominated Roberts for the Supreme Court position, and Obama, then a senator from Illinois, voted against his confirmation. It wasn’t an easy decision for Obama, Toobin claims. Obama actually agonized about it, unlike the majority of Democrats who automatically voted against Roberts based solely on party politics.   While researching for the book, Toobin says he was surprised to discover that when looking at the two men, one an agent of change, one an agent of tradition, he found that the country’s perceptions of the two men are quite different than the reality. Roberts, not Obama is the more progressive of the two men, because his conservative agenda is at odds with an establishment that is liberal dating back to the court appointments of the 1970s.   Toobin also noted, and I found this most troubling, that party politics is inextricable from constitutional law. Our justices, he said were initially granted life terms by the US Constitution, because most people only lived to be around 50 years old. Right now, Toobin says, there are four justices in their 70s who are measuring when to retire not on their ability to perform the job, but on who might be nominated to fill a vacancy and whether they are conservative or liberal. Because of these political considerations, the court has been a 5-4 liberal/conservative court for over 25 years.   Toobin thinks the next few cases the court hears will be big ones. Two concern the issue of gay marriage. Even deciding which of these to hear may be a political matter. The Defense of Marriage Act,  which is on appeal to the court, concerns the Federal Government’s recognition of gay marriages in states where it is already legal. Toobin thinks this will be overthrown, and the court will rule in favor of forcing the government to recognize state law in regard to marriage. The more interesting case may be California’s Proposition 8 case. In the case of Prop 8, at stake is whether homosexuals have the fundamental civil right to marry. In this case, Toobin thinks the court may back away from a decision, because they would have to then tell, “a bunch of people in Alabama and Utah” that they have to recognize gay marriage in places where it is currently not a legal option for same sex couples.   Just when things got serious, the event was opened to audience questions. The woman who had her mike cut off during the Weiss Q&A asked Toobin what he planned to do to stop the coming global war. She was close to having her mike cut off again, when Mitchell Kaplan of Books and Books, who co-sponsors the event and is, in my opinion, an omnipresent übermensch, stepped in and ushered her back so Toobin could say his peace.   “You seem to have an exaggerated sense of my ability to do anything, Ma’am.” Toobin responded. The audience applauded with vigor. Jan Becker is a contributor to the Florida Book Review. Becker attended Jeffrey Toobin's talk on Wednesday, Nov. 14. You can check out FBR's full live blog of the 2012 book fair here.   WLRN is collaborating with the Florida Book Review to cover this year's Miami Book Fair International. Check back all weekend for updates.