“Oath” Inspires Political Discourse

Two empty chairs and a fake plant were all that decorated the stage of the Carter Center Day Chapel as audience members chatted amongst themselves about CNN and The New Yorker legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin’s new book; “The Oath: The Obama Whitehouse and the Supreme Court”.

“Everyone should read this book,” A woman said to her neighbor, “It should be a book club staple, it’s so insightful.” Toobin arrived a few minutes late, but to loud applause as he entered the stage along with interviewer for the night Jason Carter, a Georgia State Senator and President Carter’s son. As soon as the two sat, the book came out and the questions began.

“The Oath,” described by Toobin as the successor to his popular book, “The Nine,” is an account of the political struggle between the Obama administration and Chief Justice John Robert’s Supreme Court. Toobin explained that the title was inspired by Robert’s famously botched oath of office during Obama’s 2009 inauguration.

According to Toobin, the situation initiated the trend of downhill battles between Obama and a Supreme Court where the Republican concept of ‘originalism’ is strong. Originalists are those who believe the Constitution should be read strictly by the original words.

Since the Presidential administration supports reading the Constitution as a living, breathing document, the differences in ideology have caused struggles in the most important Supreme Court decisions of the decade.

“So the title of the book was sort of a metaphor for the ascending of Originalists, or the conservative ideal in the judiciary in the Supreme Court,” Toobin said. “And also of the conflict between Roberts and Obama.”

“The Oath” has received positive reviews from The Washington Post and Booklist for its insider’s look into the inner workings of the Supreme Court and the personalities of the men and women who make America’s most important decisions.Yet during the entirety of the ‘book reading,’ Toobin never even cracked “The Oath” open. Instead, the reading turned into a discussion of the book among Toobin, Carter and the audience.

The Citizens United and Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) Supreme Court decisions were discussed in detail, and Toobin explained how both were passed and how certain Supreme Court justices were involved. He went particularly in depth with the heavily Republican-oriented Citizens United decision, calling it a prime example of the rise of conservative judicial activism in the Supreme Court.

“Citizens United is the pivot on which ‘The Oath’ turns,” Toobin said.The discussion of PPACA sparked some laughter.

Toobin admitted that in “The Oath” he had wrongly predicted that the Supreme Court would not pass the act and had to backtrack and rewrite the last section of the book.

“It was a busy summer.” Toobin said in response to an audience question about the incident.

Audience members asked Toobin about his predictions on cases the Supreme Court will take up in the future. Toobin answered every question informatively and honestly.

At one point he even said what he described as the three words that should never be uttered on cable news, “I don’t know.”

Before the reading came to a close, Carter asked Toobin to sign a copy of “The Oath” as a birthday present for President Carter, who will be turning 88 this year.  Toobin grinned and said he would happily do so.

Then audience members lined up to get their copies of “The Oath” signed by Toobin. The chatter throughout the line and the exiting crowd hailed the book reading as interesting, enlightening and a definite success.

— By Coryn Julien