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The Supreme Court: Light and Shadows

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By Dahlia Lithwick
           It’s always a treat to be in conversation with Steve Vladeck and especially powerful to be talking about his amazing new book, Shadow Docket, which became an instant New York Times bestseller and deservedly so. We are living in a spectacularly challenging moment both for court watchers and the court — and for an American public that woke up just about a year ago to discover that an unelected branch of government had taken away their right to reproductive autonomy, put more unregulated guns in the hands of more Americans, hobbled the EPA’s ability to try to mitigate carbon emissions, and allowed a public high school coach to lead sectarian prayers on the fifty yard line because … he wanted to. 
       But in addition to the dawning realization that the court’s six justice supermajority has been working to subvert the public will on issues ranging from voting rights, LGBTQ freedoms, and science, the public has also been bearing witness to a slow rolling set of scandals that started with the secret unsigned opinions that came down late at night on the court’s so-called “shadow docket” to the leak of the Dobbs opinion, to Ginni Thomas’ participation in efforts to set aside the 2020 election, to scandalous new reporting about billionaires with pay-to-play access to Justices, even as they have cases and interests before the court.  We are all starting to understand that what goes on in front of the stage at One, First street is a tiny fraction of what happens backstage.
     Steve Vladeck’s book is a tour de force when it comes to surfacing what happens backstage, in the shadows and why, and all the ways we have allowed it to happen, and why. It’s not just the secret opinions — that’s the tip of the iceberg. It’s the ways the court gave itself all sorts of powers to decide cases and to make rules and to become the most powerful branch it is today. It’s a special thrill to talk to Steve about this at a moment in which none of these efforts to arrogate power to itself is obvious, or well-explained. The book is a masterclass in explaining how we got to this point, and how to begin to reverse the trend. It’s accessible and readable and — as someone who swims in these waters — essential and underlooked.  Now more than ever we need to understand these issues, if we want to even begin to understand the current moment in voting rights, civil rights, reproductive freedom and so much more.
Dahlia Lithwick is the senior legal correspondent at Slate and host of Amicus, Slate’s award-winning biweekly podcast about the law.