CHAUTAUQUA - On July 7 at 4 p.m., author Jeffrey Toobin will present a lecture at Chautauqua Institution's Hall of Philosophy. His lecture is co-sponsored by Chautauqua and the Robert H. Jackson Center of Jamestown.
Toobin's subject will be his newly published book, ''The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court.'' In addition to the book and several other titles he has written, Toobin is known as a frequent commentator on CNN Network News and as a staff writer for the New Yorker.
I would like to tell you a bit about Toobin's latest book, and then while I'm on the subject, go on to other books which might serve to make up part of your summer reading list.
Author Jeffrey Toobin will lecture at Chautauqua on July 7.
The founders of our country demonstrated in many ways that they understood the weaknesses of democracy and its strengths.
They provided for the members of the senate, for example, to be elected by the governments of the various states, rather than by popular votes. That practice remained unchanged until well into the 20th century. They interposed the Electoral College between the will of the voters and the placing in power of a new president.
And, they created a Supreme Court, with powers relatively equal to those of both the president and the houses of Congress. The court is made up of people who are certified as both wise and learned, chosen by a president and approved by the Senate. Although the Constitution does not specify how many justices should be seated on the court, our nation has established a tradition of having nine at a time.
The court's eight associate justices and its chief justice are appointed for life, unless they do something grave enough to merit their impeachment by the House of Representatives and conviction by the Senate. Presidents announce the names of nominees to the court, expecting that they have chosen judges who agree with the president who appointed them, who will move the country closer to the appointing president's view of how things should be.
Once they are installed and past needing anyone's approval, the justices have often wandered far from the positions they were appointed to advance. On the other hand, some have hunkered down and held to their original positions without yielding so much as a comma.
Toobin has examined the members of the court for approximately the past 50 years. It is a period which began when four terms in office for Franklin Roosevelt and an additional term for Harry Truman had put a stamp of Democratic liberalism on the court. It ends in the present day, in which seven of the nine have been appointed to the bench by extremely conservative, Republican presidents.
It has been an era which has focused on civil rights for minority groups and for women, on abortion, on gay rights, on government spying in the private lives of citizens. The court has kept one president from defying the manifest will of the Congress, and has chosen one candidate over another in a presidential election. And yet, most of us know little about the judges who sit on the court, very little about the decisions which they have rendered, and why they came to see things that way.
Many citizens don't know that when the court reaches a decision, any of the judges may write an analysis of the legal issues in question, and those analyses may be used by other courts to render decisions in similar cases. If the students I taught for more than 30 years are any example, people seem to believe that when the majority of the court votes that something should happen, that one decision is explained in writing.
Toobin's book is easy to read. It does not use legal terminology without explaining what is being said, and it creates very vivid pictures of the justices, and how their personalities have molded their decisions, sometimes with earth-shattering importance.
In a few cases, one wonders how he could possibly know the things he claims to be facts. Who told Toobin, for example, that Chief Justice William Rehnquist had summoned Justice Antonin Scalia to his office and instructed him that in writing his decisions, Scalia must stop including personal attacks on fellow justice Sandra Day O'Connor?
Did Rehnquist tell Toobin he had said, ''Nino, stop picking on Sandy?'' Did Rehnquist? O'Connor? Why would any of them want it known?
The author makes no clearly prejudicial statements about the decisions which have been made by the court, although it is clear that he personally admires some of the justices, considerably more than others. He clearly admires some of their decisions more than others as well.
Reading the book can bring into new focus issues which you thought you had understood before.
''The Nine,'' by Jeffrey Toobin was published by Doubleday Publishing in 2007. It has 340 pages in hardbound edition, as well as extensive documentation and indices. It sells for $27.95.
The Diana Chronicles
The Roman emperor Caligula once said he wished that the entire public shared one single neck so he could cut through it with his sword.
Public opinion remains a challenge to governments, and is universally astonishing to anyone who tries to understand it. Some individuals are hardworking, honest and intelligent, yet they remain unpopular and have difficulty getting their ideas put into practice. This is especially true if they are physically unattractive.
Others may be lazy, dishonest or conniving, yet somehow know the ways to getting the public behind them, however harmful their actions and ideas. They have an easier time of it if they're good looking.
Few people in history have manipulated the public as successfully as the woman known as Diana, Princess of Wales. She was the oft-neglected, third daughter of a hard-drinking British nobleman who left school without a single O level. This is the equivalent of failing to pass a single Regents exam.
She didn't go to college and held no job in her life, other than as a house cleaner, a nanny and an assistant in a day care center. Yet when she died in an auto accident while still in her 30s, she brought much of the world to a standstill and came close to putting an end to the most admired and respected monarchy in the world.
Many books have been written about the former Diana Spencer. If you want a fairly accurate and well-explained view of the princess and the things she did in her life, the best I have encountered is ''The Diana Chronicles'' by Tina Brown.
Brown lives in the world which created the myth of Princess Diana - the world of tabloid newspapers, and of unscrupulous photographers being paid a year's salary for a single photograph of something they had no moral right to photograph in the first place.
The author has made millions and considerable fame by taking charge of magazines - most famously ''Vanity Fair'' and ''The New Yorker'' - which have been beloved for decades for publishing outstanding writing and intellectual challenge, and turning them into glorified celebrants of the shallow, the tawdry and the crass.
In her analysis of the life and career of the princess, however, one almost never finds oneself doubting a fact. One might not draw the same conclusions as the aggressive author, but one accepts her facts and reasoning.
The life training which many young Americans receive does not prepare them to live in a world of subtlety and manipulation. How many children listen to how many stories, films and television shows in which attractive people are completely good, unattractive people are utterly bad, and virtually nobody ever tempers good qualities with weaknesses and lackings?
What Diana added to the careers of media stars such as Frank Sinatra or Lindsay Lohan was the element of genuine royalty.
For a thousand years and longer, people were taught that God chooses a king to rule over a country, and that to disagree with the king was to disagree with God. That sort of thing could get you torn limb from limb or burned alive, if not both. Today, that belief is officially disbelieved, and yet, millions upon millions still, deep down inside, believe it completely.
Why do we, in our democratic republic, crown homecoming queens and advertise kings of the used car lots? Do they make our lives better in any way? Yet, people become enraged if someone respectfully questions these mythological rankings. Sometimes they become violent.
The present-day king of England is a woman: Elizabeth II, now well into her 80s. Her oldest son - obviously chosen by God to rule after her - is a moderately intelligent, rather unattractive man of nearly 60: Prince Charles.
For a thousand years, a man in line for a throne must marry only a virgin. If his wife had ''a past,'' it might be suggested that his children were not really his children, and therefore, not God's choice to rule next. Such doubt has led to wars and revolutions, and killed hundreds of thousands.
Poor Charles came of age when his capital city was known as the world center of swinging sexual liberation. He was expected to have considerable sexual experience himself - the king is virile and dynamic - yet he had to find a wife who was a virgin. No one, it was believed, should turn up in 20 years, publishing a book to suggest he knew things about the queen that no one should know but the king.
As the prince approached 40, the pressure to marry became vast, but the number of certified virgins was dismally few. In Diana, Charles found a 19-year-old who had grown up in a house on the royal estate of Sandringham. Diana had realized his quandary as early as 13, when the prince had a few dates with her older sister. She determined to ''keep herself tidy,'' to use her own words, in hopes of a future of riding in glass carriages and sitting on thrones. It worked.
The trouble with fairy tales, as Stephen Sondheim points out, is that a girl who marries Prince Charming soon finds she probably would be much happier if she had married Prince Reliable. Diana got the most fashionable clothes and makeup and all the palaces and carriages and jewels, and the newspapers learned that a photo of her on their cover would increase sales by as much as a million copies.
If they happened to catch her in a frown or a sneeze or muttering an angry word, the value of the photo soared. They took to calling her filthy names and shouting out that people she loved had been murdered, entirely in the hope of getting a photo worth millions.
Author Brown knows the photographers and the editors. She has things to hold over the heads of childhood girlfriends, friends of friends, and ill-paid servants.
Diana hated the photographers, but she loved that they wanted to photograph her. It proved that she mattered. She hid from the lenses, yet she sometimes phoned tabloids anonymously to let them know she would be appearing in a place where they could ''catch'' her. A world full of caller I.D. and ''star 69'' was her undoing.
When her marriage began to founder, as her husband continued to see former girlfriends, she found she could punish him by using her fame to best him.
When he strode over to a crowd to shake hands, and they booed him and demanded to know why she wasn't there, Charles was stung. Diana was glad. When her photo in a short skirt pushed his opening of a new museum off the front page, it was a weapon she was good at using.
When her phones were tapped and it was proven that she had lovers, or she was demonstrated to have made repeated phone calls, like a silly teenager, to married men she found attractive, the public always took her side because she was beautiful and so must be good, like Snow White and Cinderella. Newspapers didn't sell another million copies with Prince Charles on the cover, so they usually took her side.
Diana meant well, and she did a world of good. There was a time when grown men physically attacked children who had developed AIDS because they were afraid of catching the disease. When Diana was photographed hugging victims and encouraging her beloved sons to shake their hands, she virtually single handedly turned around the world's hatred and ignoring of HIV victims.
People had made speeches and written articles for nearly a century about the number of innocent people - often children - who were maimed or killed by landmines left behind after the end of wars. It wasn't until Diana was photographed and filmed, walking boldly into uncleared mine fields, that the world began to pay attention and try to stop the creation of those mines.
If her courage and generosity were sometimes balanced by vanity and meanness, then surely her vanity and meanness were similarly balanced by her courage and generosity.
If you want all the inside stories, including the author's extensive exploration of the royal couple's childhoods, courtship, private lives, love affairs, parenting, plotting and Diana's death and funeral, it's all here in very readable form. Camilla, Charles' mistress, whom he married after his wife's death, doesn't come off well at all.
''The Diana Chronicles'' was published in paperbound edition by Broadway Books. It has 499 pages, in addition to extensive bibliography, index and annotations. It sells for $15.95.