When it comes to mysterious, secretive, hidebound government institutions, you can’t beat the Supreme Court. Cameras aren’t allowed inside the court chambers; opinions are refined and assigned behind closed doors; justices rarely give interviews, and if they do, they usually avoid answering any controversial question at all. (Except for you, Scalia, God bless ya.) So when a journalist manages to pry out anything beyond Linda Greenhouse’s usual tea-leaf-reading, it’s an accomplishment. The best and most famous SCOTUS insider account is Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong’s 1979 book The Brethren: Inside the Supreme Court. What made The Brethren so good is that it was pieced together from tell-all interviews with anonymous loose-lipped law clerks. Since then, though, clerks have learned to keep their mouths shut, and Jeffrey Toobin’s new book, The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, has to rely much more on the circumspect words of the justices themselves. The CNN analyst and New Yorker contributor does a stellar job describing a crucial period in American jurisprudence, but The Nine is less an “inside” account of the Supreme Court than it is just a really, really hard look from the outside. Toobin discusses and signs copies of his work at 7 p.m. at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919.

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