I had the opportunity to interview Mr Trachtman about his new book ‘The Supremes Greatest Hits’. This was a 2 part interview initially through E-mail and then a follow up telephone interview.

Simon@BNN: It is a wonderfully crafted book, how did you come up with the idea?
Michael G. Trachtman: The general idea of writing a book on the Supreme Court’s most significant decisions was suggested to me by John Boswell, a literary agent and manager in NYC with whom I had worked on a prior book.  There has been a vast amount of media attention devoted to recent Supreme Court nominations and decisions, and John felt that the public needed a book, written in language non-lawyers could understand and enjoy, that would explain what the brouhaha was really all about. 
In refining just what this book should be, my goal was to bring the topic to the level of each individual, and to help readers understand what the Supreme Court’s rulings mean to them in their everyday lives — hence the subtitle, “The 34 Cases That Most Affect Your Daily Life.”   I wanted to get away from academic analyses and political critiques, and I wanted to get beyond abortion, where the media usually focuses virtually to the exclusion of everything else.  There’s so much more that the Supreme Court faces, and about which concerned citizens need to be informed in an unbiased way — separation of church and state, affirmative action, protecting rights of privacy, free speech, the implications of the Internet, the rights of the accused, and balancing personal freedom versus national security.  I wanted to equip people with the know how to get past the slickly-produced, interest group-driven television ads and sound bites that seem to dominate our political process so they can reach their own conclusions, based on what’s most important to them and their families.   
Simon: I noticed that this is not your first foray into the publishing world, but this is the first book aimed at the general public. Did you find it hard to ‘un-learn’ the legal style and write for the man in the street?
Michael: In my legal career, I represent entrepreneurs and business people trying to stay out, or get out, of legal trouble.  The problem these people have is that, on the one hand, it remains true that ignorance of the law is no excuse, but on the other hand it’s very hard for non-lawyers to understand the laws with which they must comply.  It’s like being forced to play a game with a rule book you can’t understand.  I wrote my prior book in the late 1980’s in the hope of helping business people comprehend what was expected of them, and how to use the rules to their advantage.  To do that, I had to learn to write in a way that non-lawyers could understand, and I found it very, very difficult to turn off the lawyer aspect of my personality.  Ultimately, it clicked — I discovered that to write in this way, you literally have to master the skill of assuming a different persona.  Over the years I’ve worked to maintain that skill by writing literally dozens of articles for various publications, and for my law firm and consulting firm websites. 
Simon: The traditional ‘Bricks and Mortar’ bookstore has limited shelf space. There is a tendency for book stores to stock bestsellers rather than risk that vital space on a newcomer. The Internet has eased the problem through the virtual bookstore (amazon, etc). Do you view the Internet as a significant factor in the sales of your book?
Michael: I’m very fortunate in that The Supremes’ Greatest Hits has been published by Sterling Publishing, which has been very successful in placing the book in Barnes and Noble stores and other chains and independent book stores.  But at the same time, there is no question that the ability of a prospective buyer to plug a search term like “supreme court” into a website and then peruse the various books on the subject opens up a market that would not otherwise be available.  It’s a fabulous win-win opportunity for both writers and readers. 
Simon: I really enjoyed ‘The Supremes’, have you received a lot of positive feedback?
Michael: I have.  Almost always it begins with an excited sentence something like, “I never knew…”.  That’s precisely what I had hoped for — the opportunity to give readers information they didn’t have, and that they find interesting and important. 
Simon: Is there another book in the mill? (if there is I want to read it!)
Michael: I’ve got lots of ideas for additional ways in which I can translate the most crucial laws and legal structures that dominate our country into a form that readers can understand and incorporate into their lives as business people, citizens and voters.  As they say in my profession, the jury is still out on where I’ll go from here. 
Part two of the interview was by phone.

Alas I did not have a recorder and I do not know shorthand. I have tried to paraphrase the answers as best I remember them. Any errors or omissions are my fault alone!

Simon: Firstly let me say thank you for taking time out to talk with me. I enjoyed your book it is a very insightful work into an area that few of us regular folks know very much about.
My understanding is that Supreme Court gets to pick and chose the cases that it rules on. Is that really true, and if it is, is this a good way for it to operate.

Michael: Yes, that is the way that it operates, they are free to pick the cases that have a direct bearing on the constitution. The Court has been working in this fashion for a very long time, the system may not be perfect but it works.
Simon: What happens to the cases that the Supreme Court decides not to review? Is there any other recourse?

Michael: No, there is no recourse, if the Supreme Court opts not to review it, The legal ruling stands. The Buck has to stop somewhere, but understand that prior to any case making it to the Supreme Court it may have been addressed by up to 3 levels of Appeals courts. Both sides have had their day in court.
Simon: I was very interested in chapter 10. The internet is here to stay, and it certainly poses some interesting challenges for example:
The net has made us a much more global civilization, the physical nationality barriers have largely been removed (China and Korea being exemptions), this removal of national barriers obviously creates legal challenges, what is acceptable in one country may not be acceptable in another. In many ways this is analogous to the pornography chapter in your book; different standards applied by different communities. How is the Supreme Court going to deal with this?

Michael: Many of the issues connected with the internet are better addressed at the legislative level. A good example of that is the recent ‘Internet Gambling’ legislation. The Supreme Court operates within some narrow boundaries, and primarily deals with questions concerning the constitution, and the constitutionality of legal rulings.
Simon: Several times in the book you remark about how the justices have been forced to rethink the meaning of the constitution to make it relate to concepts that were not in existence at the time it was written. Can you see a point where that tactic will no longer work?
Michael: The constitution is a wonderfully broad document that allows much room in it for interpretation. Clearly it was written prior to the advent of the internet, or even the industrial revolution. It is so well crafted and flexible that it can be adapted to situations and technologies that were not in existence at the time of writing.

Simon: Although appointment to the Supreme Court is a political act and obviously the assumption is that a republican president will appoint republican justices. You indicate in your book that this does not always get the results that presidents may seek. Loyalties can change in such a lofty position. Should the Supremes be a political appointment?

Michael: The system has it’s flaws. But as Winston Churchill said, ‘Democracy is a terrible system except when you consider all the others’. It would be impossible to have the positions elected. The electoral process itself would destroy the integrity of the court. The potential justice being forced to campaign and make his or her position made known on important matters is completely at odds with the Supreme Courts function.
Simon: Being on the ‘inside track’ is there one single case or issue that is meandering its way through the judicial system that is particularly noteworthy in its potential to affect the average man in the street?

Michael: I’ve got two issues, and I can’t choose between them. 
The first is campaign finance reform.  It’s not an overstatement to say that in a great many instances, the ability to use television and other media decides elections, and money determines that ability, on the local, state and national levels.  The extent to which the Supreme Court chooses to deal further with the constitutionality of campaign finance reform will define the future role of money in the election process, and that will determine the future role of special interests in politics.  That is of tremendous importance to all of us.     
The second is the extent to which government will be permitted to regulate the internet by restricting content, imposing use taxes, and so on.  The internet has already transformed so much of society, and has the potential to do so in the future in ways that are difficult to foresee.   When you tinker with something of that magnitude, you create irreversible ripple effects, some of which may be good and some of which may be not so good, but all of which will affect a very wide slice of society in many ways.  What the Supreme Court does, or refuses to do, in the face of government efforts to get involved in the internet will, I think, constitute a battleground of great significance to individuals, business, the arts, politics, scholarship… the list goes on.   

Simon: Again let me congratulate you on a fine book and I wish you every success with it. Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to answer my lay-mans questions.

My review of ‘The Supremes Greatest Hits’ can be found here.

Simon Barrett


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