The Most Dangerous Branch: Inside the Supreme Court in the Age of Trump (Paperback)
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In the bestselling tradition of The Nine and The Brethren, The Most Dangerous Branch takes us inside the secret world of the Supreme Court. David A. Kaplan, the former legal affairs editor of Newsweek, shows how the justices subvert the role of the other branches of government—and how we’ve come to accept it at our peril.
With the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court has never before been more central in American life. It is the nine justices who too often now decide the controversial issues of our time—from abortion and same-sex marriage, to gun control, campaign finance and voting rights. The Court is so crucial that many voters in 2016 made their choice based on whom they thought their presidential candidate would name to the Court. Donald Trump picked Neil Gorsuch—the key decision of his new administration. Brett Kavanaugh—replacing Kennedy—will be even more important, holding the swing vote over so much social policy. Is that really how democracy is supposed to work?
Based on exclusive interviews with the justices and dozens of their law clerks, Kaplan provides fresh details about life behind the scenes at the Court—Clarence Thomas’s simmering rage, Antonin Scalia’s death, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s celebrity, Breyer Bingo, the petty feuding between Gorsuch and the chief justice, and what John Roberts thinks of his critics.
Kaplan presents a sweeping narrative of the justices’ aggrandizement of power over the decades—from Roe v. Wade to Bush v. Gore to Citizens United, to rulings during the 2017-18 term. But the arrogance of the Court isn’t partisan: Conservative and liberal justices alike are guilty of overreach. Challenging conventional wisdom about the Court’s transcendent power, The Most Dangerous Branch is sure to rile both sides of the political aisle.
About the Author
David A. Kaplan was a senior editor and legal affairs correspondent at Newsweek for 20 years. While there, he wrote several dozen cover stories on the Court and other topics. Later he was a contributing editor at Fortune, where he wrote long-form profiles of Charlie Rose, Howard Schultz, David Geffen, and Ralph Nader, among others. He is the author of the national bestseller The Silicon Boys; an account of the 2000 presidential election, The Accidental President (on which the HBO feature film Recount was based); and Mine’s Bigger, about the largest sailboat in history, which won the Loeb Award for Best Business Book of 2008. These days, he teaches journalism and ethics at NYU and CUNY.
“Show[s] how the justices take and rule on cases that they have, in Kaplan’s view, no legitimate role in deciding, and on the basis of legal reasoning that only barely masks partisan goals. The high-profile 5-to-4 opinions Kaplan highlights are deserving targets.”—The Washington Post
“[Describes] the behind the scenes dealing that led to the appointment of the sitting Supreme Court . . . Presented at a level of granularity with which you may not be familiar. It makes for engaging, if not reassuring, reading.”—NPR
“Kaplan writes in an engaging fashion throughout this detailed book. . . . The Most Dangerous Branch couldn’t be better.”—Associated Press
“Persuasively [argues] that the court has lost its bearings . . . engaging, gossipy and often highly critical . . . [Kaplan] takes readers through a scathing tour of recent Supreme Court decisions. . . A passionately argued and credible indictment of the court.”—Publishers Weekly
“Reminiscent of The Brethren.”—The National Law Journal
“An amazing amount of reporting about conversations and politics inside the Court.”—Washington Free Beacon
“A fascinating look at the Court during one of its most important, and divisive, eras . . . a perfect primer for helping Americans understand how members of the court came to justify their excessive involvement in various controversial issues.”—The Christian Science Monitor
“David Kaplan has an inquiring mind and a lively style. He also has some incredible sources inside the Court who have helped him open a window on the inner workings of the most opaque branch of our government. At a moment when the Court’s future hangs in the balance because of the retirement of Justice Kennedy, this book is important, even urgent (and it has plenty of dish, too).”—Daniel Okrent, author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition
“This is a book for our times. As the Supreme Court has become a focus of elections, confirmation battles and partisan decisions, The Most Dangerous Branch tells the story, in a compelling way, of the ‘triumphalism’ of the justices, both liberal and conservative. It warns against the increasing power of what was supposed to be the least dangerous branch—nine unelected judges who allocate to themselves decision-making authority over issues that should be left to the elected branches. Read it and start worrying. Then demand change.”—Alan Dershowitz, Professor Emeritus at Harvard Law School
“David Kaplan mixes the gifts of a colorful storyteller with the incisiveness of a first-class legal brief. Read this book for an original argument on a judicial power grab and to find out why Neil Gorsuch is ‘like an eight-year-old in a counter-revolutionary candy store.’”—Jonathan Alter, author of The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies