If It Please the Court

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

SUPREME COURTSHIP

By Christopher Buckley

Twelve. 285 pp. $24.99

The premise of Christopher Buckley's new political comedy, Supreme Courtship, isn't all that far-fetched. In fact, after Fred Thompson's bid to bring law and order to the White House, this novel could more accurately be called near-fetched -- disarmingly, hilariously so.

President Donald Vanderdamp, the most loathed POTUS in history, is outraged to have two Supreme Court nominations crushed. To spite Dexter Mitchell, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Vanderdamp taps Perdita "Pepper" Cartwright, the sassy judge of a TV courtroom show. The straight-talking Texan proves so wildly popular that her confirmation sails through and Vanderdamp's approval ratings soar. Humiliated, Mitchell resigns his Senate seat to star as president in his own TV show, which then proves so wildly popular that he runs for president, campaigning with his hot TV wife rather than his actual wife.

"You can't tell anymore what's real and what isn't," President Vanderdamp complains. "Everything's all jumbled. The world has been reduced to a wide-screen TV." While the insight isn't exactly original, Buckley has some serious fun with his very-close-to-real-life Supreme Court, which includes Silvio Santamaria, a supercilious arch-conservative, and glum Crispus Galavanter, who "occupied the 'black seat' on the court, though it was seldom openly referred to as such."

The novel's comic centerpiece is Swayle v. Rimski Firearms, a case in which a criminal sues a gun company for a trigger malfunction during a bank robbery. When Pepper casts the deciding vote in favor of the bank robber, the plot thickens, as public outcry leads to one-term limits on the presidency.

The courtship of the title refers to Pepper's affair with Chief Justice Declan Hardwether. Pepper and "Chiefy" share a delightful meet-cute when she disrupts his suicide attempt and the two parry about whether she's "construing too narrowly" in positing a "duty to care."

You don't read a Buckley novel for the depth of character development. With her rodeo slang and cowboy boots, Pepper is Texas-trite, but no matter. You'll be belly-laughing through Buckley's byzantine plot, which includes Peester v. Spendo-Max Corp., a case in which a male shoplifter stuffing merchandise into a burqa sues the Reno police force for racial and religious profiling, and ends with the Supreme Court deciding a presidential election. As the president sighs, "It's not as though we haven't been there before." Last go-around, it wasn't quite so uproarious.

-- Lisa Zeidner 's most recent novel is "Layover."


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