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Seven minutes after President Obama put his signature to a landmark national health care insurance program, a lawyer in the office of Florida GOP attorney general Bill McCollum hit a computer key, sparking a legal challenge to the new law that would eventually reach the nation’s highest court. Health care is only the most visible and recent front in a battle over the meaning and scope of the US Constitution. The battleground is the Supreme Court, and one of the most skilled, insightful, and trenchant of its observers takes us close up to watch it in action.

The Roberts court, seven years old, is at the center of a constitutional maelstrom. Four landmark decisions—concerning health care, money in elections, guns at home, and race in schools—reveal the fault lines in a conservative-dominated court, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr.

Marcia Coyle’s brilliant inside account of the high court captures how those cases began—the personalities and conflicts that catapulted them onto the national scene—and how they ultimately exposed the great divides among the justices, such as the originalists versus the pragmatists on guns and the Second Amendment, and corporate speech versus human speech in the controversial Citizens United campaign case. Most dramatically, her analysis shows how dedicated conservative lawyers and groups are strategizing to find cases and crafting them to bring up the judicial road to the Supreme Court with an eye on a receptive conservative majority. The Roberts Court offers a ringside seat at the struggle to lay down the law of the land.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “One of the best Supreme Court books in years; a wise and deeply reported inside look at the court, its struggles, and the justices themselves.”

    Bob Woodward, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Brethren

  • “In this fast-paced narrative, Marcia Coyle brings alive the four recent cases that illuminate the emerging agenda of the Roberts court. Everyone gets a voice in Coyle’s story: litigants, lawyers, clerks on the court, even the justices themselves. In an understated but powerful voice, she also implies that the conservative majority on the Roberts Court is pursuing an agenda as broad and active as any Court in our history. Coyle concisely captures the complexities of constitutional jurisprudence.”

    Jack Rakove, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Original Meanings

  • “Richly sourced and impressively researched, Marcia Coyle’s authoritatively nonpartisan account of the inner workings of the Roberts Court is a must-read for everyone who wants to understand why the Court often plays a deciding role in American lives.”

    David Garrow, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Bearing the Cross

  • “Marcia Coyle has written the go-to book for anyone who wants to understand the most conservative Supreme Court that most Americans alive today can remember. Her acute focus on key 5–4 cases not only shows us the Roberts court in action but also explains how conservative social movements have made their voices heard at the court on issues that matter to us all.”

    Linda Greenhouse, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Becoming Justice Blackmun

  • “Marcia Coyle has written a brilliant exposé of how the Roberts court has acted on health care, gun control, campaign finance, school racism, and more. This is jurisprudence journalism history at its finest. And it’s a joy to read. Highly recommended!”

    Douglas Brinkley, New York Times bestselling author of Cronkite

  • “In her meticulously reported, eminently readable treatment of the Roberts court, the vastly experienced Marcia Coyle skillfully lifts the veil of ignorance enshrouding the work of our nation’s highest court. This is a wonderful addition to the literature about the Court uniquely entrusted with the ultimate task of interpreting America’s constitution.”

    Kenneth W. Starr, solicitor general of the United States in the George H. W. Bush administration, author of First among Equals

  • “Richly analytical and meticulously careful…Even-handed and full of smart analysis…Coyle’s shrewd reading of the cases is supplemented by skillful reporting on those who practice before the court…It’s not the modest court that its chief once proposed; to the contrary, it is assertive, relevant, and a bit scary—and worthy of this useful book.”

    Los Angeles Times

  • “From campaign finance to gun rights, from public-school integration to health care, the court has recently overruled precedents, raised unasked legal questions, and disregarded the decisions of elected officials, generating worries that the court may be becoming as partisan an institution as Congress…In separate sections, Coyle carefully and in great detail examines recent rulings…In this insightful, important look at the Roberts court, Coyle…explores the broader implications for American politics and justice.”

    Booklist (starred review)

  • “Coyle’s canny account of the court shows how even the highest reaches of constitutional reasoning are shadowed by dogma and bias.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “A careful, informed analysis of the origins, progress, and disposition of the complex, high-stakes legal disputes that find their way to the court.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • A Publishers Weekly Pick of the Week, March 2013
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About the Author

Marcia Coyle is the chief Washington correspondent for the National Law Journal. A lawyer and journalist, she has covered the Supreme Court for nineteen years. She regularly appears on PBS’s NewsHour, and her work has earned numerous national journalism awards, including the George Polk Award for legal reporting, the Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for outstanding investigative reporting, the Scripps Howard Foundation Award for environmental reporting, and the American Judicature Society’s Toni House Journalism Award.