Today, Knute and I ventured to the Main Justice building to attend the latest of the talks given by the Criminal Division Speakers’ Series. This time around, Jeffrey Toobin was the speaker. He is most known as a staff writer covering legal affairs at The New Yorker and as a legal analyst for CNN. Being the son of a former ABC and CBS news correspondent and a news broadcasting producer, his path to the journalistic field may have seemed inevitable. However, Toobin never intended to end up like his parents, and instead decided to go to law school--he went to Harvard and was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. After graduation, he was a law clerk to a federal judge and then was chosen to work as an associate counsel to Lawrence E. Walsh during the Iran-Contra affair. Toobin chose to write a book about the affair, sparking controversy with his employer, Walsh. Walsh took him to court, but lost, and was ordered to give Toobin permission to write his book. In his last real attempt at law, Toobin became an assistant U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn. Eventually, he was let go after 3 years: he could not pass the security clearances because of the book he had previously written. After that unfortunate event, he applied for a job at The New Yorker and the rest, as they say, is history. In recent years, he has provided broadcast legal analysis, covering stories such as the Michael Jackson case, O.J. Simpson trial, and the Starr investigation of President Clinton.
In his spare time, Toobin writes books about particular things that spark his interest while working his two jobs. His most recent books include Too Close to Call: The Thirty-Six-Day Battle to Decide the 2000 Election and The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court. The Nine has received so much praise that he decided to write a sequel, coming out this fall, called The Oath: The Secret Struggle for the Supreme Court. His decision to write a second book about the Supreme Court comes not only out of the success of his first book, but also because he feels that the Court has changed vastly since his last book was written. Toobin spoke for a while about the polarization on the Court and how he feels like it has followed the same trend that is present in American politics today. He believes that, like in Congress, the changing judiciary is due to the evolution of a more far right Republican Party. He talked about how the traditionally conservative Justices, Sandra Day O’Connor and William Rehnquist, were replaced with even more conservative Justices, John Roberts and Samuel Alito.
Toobin claims to be a journalist that does not see the point in taking one particular view and shoving it in people’s faces. In fact, he believes that one of his strengths is seeing both sides of an argument and presenting them fairly to the public. However, as expressed in this talk, Toobin is not as unbiased as he claims to be when speaking about his views on Bush v. Gore and the latest case against the Affordable Care Act. He declared that the Bush v. Gore decision was one of the most disgraceful decisions in Supreme Court history; he said that Bush v. Gore violated the preeminence of states’ rights that conservative Justices had favored before by not allowing the Florida courts to iron out the problems themselves. Toobin has been even more outspoken about the Affordable Care Act lawsuits, asserting that there is no possible way that that individual mandate is unconstitutional. He discussed how he thought the Justices were giving the Solicitor General, Donald Verelli, a particularly difficult time and even stated that he thought it was one of the most intense moments in the history of the Court.
All in all, I thought the talk was entertaining—I found it especially impressive the way he has managed to merge his passion for law with his skills in writing and speaking and turn it into a massively successful career.