My overall take on American Original is decidedly mixed. On the positive side: The book is well written, much more so than I expected from my occasional encounters with Biskupic’s reporting. It is also in many places more evenhanded than I expected. And I found the first four chapters particularly interesting.
I’ll flesh out the negative side in my posts to come, but here’s an overview: Consistent with her reductionist depiction of judging as politics, Biskupic does not engage well with Scalia’s ideas about judging. In particular, I doubt that any reader will come away from the book understanding what Scalia’s original-meaning methodology is, much less his stated reasons for believing that it’s the correct interpretive methodology. Far from grappling with Scalia’s jurisprudential ideas, Biskupic resorts to flawed and simplistic accounts. Worse, she misrepresents Scalia’s positions and statements on a variety of matters—always to his detriment. In sum, although she may well have, as she says (p. 415), “worked hard to be both fair to him and true to the readers of this book,” she has fallen well short of those goals.
Ed’s review reminds me again of why I so admired Jan Crawford Greenburg’s book Supreme Conflict–I was impressed by Greenburg’s effort to really understand conservative judicial philosophy and their effort to distinguish law from policy and politics. Some may criticize them as failing to live up to this purported goal, but I think that Greenburg’s sense of what animates the debates within the conservative legal movement is correct and that she does describe those debates fairly, even if she doesn’t agree with them (which, to her credit as a journalist, I had no idea after reading the book whether she was actually sympathetic or hostile to conservative legal theories).