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Marcia Coyle Takes Readers Behind Scenes of Supreme Court in New Book Chronicling Roberts Era

Marcia Coyle, author the “The Roberts Court,” explains how she reports on the Supreme Court. “It’s also a very heavy reading beat, and that’s what I spend a lot of my time doing. You have to do that in order to understand the arguments.” Watch the video for a behind-the-scenes look at the nation’s highest court.

Justice Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearings before the Senate in 2010 marked an early peak of recent interest in the Supreme Court. Since then, blogs, Twitter, traditional print media and broadcast outlets have demanded extensive coverage of the justices and their decisions — from the Citizens United and the Affordable Care Act cases to this year’s arguments on same-sex marriage. And with Kagan’s appointment, the court had seen rapid change with four new justices in five years.

The time was right. Marcia Coyle needed to write a book.

Coyle had been a longtime newspaper reporter, earned a law degree and has written for the National Law Journal for a dozen years. When a Simon & Schuster editor contacted her during Kagan’s confirmation hearings, the opportunity wasn’t one Coyle had long desired, she said. But she felt it would offer a professional challenge.

“The book presented another chance to dig into a subject and, of course, it was a subject that I love and an institution that I deeply respect,” Coyle told the NewsHour.

Coyle began work on the “The Roberts Court” in January 2011. She finished 19 months later.

She interviewed six justices, mostly on background so she could include nuggets of candid insight into the court. For instance, one unnamed current justice is quoted near the end of the book about his or her colleagues: “There are only eight people in the world I can talk to about politics, about a lot of things … To a large extent on a large number of subjects, we are the only choice of friends we have, so you find a way to get along.”

When the Supreme Court is in session, Coyle regularly appears on the PBS NewsHour. She walks viewers through the finer points of cases and decisions of the high court, and provides overviews of terms at the beginning and end.

Rarely do we hear sweeping multi-year perspectives about the court from Coyle. But in “The Roberts Court,” out May 7, she examines how Chief Justice John Roberts has influenced the justices and major, controversial cases’ outcomes. She includes case studies on disputes in Seattle and Jefferson County, Ky., over school segregation; a case regarding gun rights in the District of Columbia, known commonly as Heller; the Citizens United campaign finance case; and the challenge to the Affordable Care Act in 2012.

You can watch Coyle explain many of the major cases this term on our Supreme Court page. And here she explains common questions about how the court works and how the justices interact with each other.

We’ll see her again this month and next, as the court closes its 2012-2013 term and issues decisions on topics including the Voting Rights Act, affirmative action and same-sex marriage. Be sure to tune in to the NewsHour Thursday, when senior correspondent Jeffrey Brown discusses with Coyle “The Roberts Court.”

The Roberts Court by Marcia Coyle – Excerpt by PBS NewsHour

Coyle provided this correction to the above text: The former chief justice’s name on the first page is Melville Fuller.

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