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Supremes Author on the Supreme Pick

Gail Shister
TVNewser Columnist

Toobin.jpgIt doesn’t happen every year and there are no (visible) shoulder pads, but covering the search for a new Supreme Court justice is “the Nerd Super Bowl” for CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin.

Explain yourself, counselor.

“The [judges'] written opinions can seem esoteric. It’s fairly abstract stuff,” says Toobin, a Harvard Law grad and author of ’07 bestseller The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court.

“It’s not like a political campaign, where candidates are giving speeches — red meat — to the public,” he continues. “Most people don’t read actual opinions or see the Supreme Court in action.”

Toobin, King of the Nerds, does both. The challenge, he says, is to decode the legalese into language that “brings the issues before the court alive in a meaningful way for people who are not lawyers.”

Translation: Convey the enormity of the stakes without putting viewers into REM sleep.

Gender will be a big factor in President Obama’s choice of nominee for David Souter‘s seat, Toobin says. He puts the odds at 80-20.

It puzzles Toobin that there have been only two female Supremes in the history of the high court — Sandra Day O’Connor, who retired in 2006; and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, 76 and battling pancreatic cancer.


“The legal profession is approaching half women,” he says. “The Supreme Court is one-ninth women. I think that is out of whack, and really peculiar, in a profession so integrated by gender.”

Obama has an “enormous” pool of qualified female potential nominees, says Toobin, 48, a former prosecutor. Among non-judicial types, Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security; and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm are acknowledged front-runners.

On the bench, Toobin likes Sonya Sontomayor of New York’s Court of Appeals, a distinguished — and Hispanic — jurist. The fact that she was appointed to District Court by George H. W. Bush gives her, in Toobin’s words, “bipartisan sheen.’

As much as he enjoys chronicling such “Super” stories, Toobin would ditch it all in a New York minute to be a member of the Supremes.

“Somebody has to have the last word in our society, and it happens to be the Supreme Court. To exercise that kind of power, in that setting, would be magnificent. I’d lay out the dough for my own robe.”

And the chances of that are… “about the same as my chances of playing shortstop for the Mets. Both jobs are my childhood ambition.

“I’m still available.”

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