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Opening Arguments

A little good news

The New York Times does an analysis of the Supreme Court that starts out trying to be scary (if you're a liberal, anyway):

In those five years, the court not only moved to the right but also became the most conservative one in living memory, based on an analysis of four sets of political science data.

Or, as the headline puts it, the "most conservative in decades." Lord.  Get ready for back-alley abortions and beating confessions out of people and forcing 8-year-olds into sweatshops with only one 10-minute gruel break every 12-hour day. You have to read almost to the end of the very long story to get this, though:

The proposition that the Roberts court is to the right of even the quite conservative courts that preceded it thus seems fairly well established. But it is subject to qualifications.

First, the rightward shift is modest.

Second, the data do not take popular attitudes into account. While the court is quite conservative by historical standards, it is less so by contemporary ones. Public opinion polls suggest that about 30 percent of Americans think the current court is too liberal, and almost half think it is about right.

So the shift was "modest," and the court is still probably to the left of the American public. Well, that was a lot of nonsense about nothing, wasn't it?

The reason for this "modest shift" was one change in the court's makeup -- Justice Samuel Alito's replacement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. That meant the replacement of center-left O'Connor as the swing vote with center-right Justice Anthony Kennedy:

Though Chief Justice Roberts gets all the attention, Justice Alito may thus be the lasting triumph of the administration of President George W. Bush. He thrust Justice Kennedy to the court's center and has reshaped the future of American law.

Well, OK then. I still don't forgive Bush for expanding government's reach and cost so much that it gave conservatism a bad name and paved the way for Obama's wretched excesses, but he does deserve credit for this lasting legacy. But his first choice, don't forget, was Harriet Miers, so he even backed into this good decision.


Mon, 07/26/2010 - 3:37pm

I don't know whether this is the "most conservative" court in decades, but it is the most partisan in recent memory.
Even just 20 or 30 years ago, people awaited Supreme Court rulings with great anticipation. How would the justices rule? No one knew.
We now have four reliable conservatives and four reliable liberals, with Kennedy usually voting with the conservatives. At least 8 of the 9 votes are absolutely predictable. They might as well just let Kennedy make every ruling by himself, as his opinion determines the outcome of every case.
Even if Obama wins a second term, you can bet that Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito will not retire until and unless a Republican is elected president.
Same thing on the left, of course. Stevens clearly served too long, but he wasn't going to let Bush replace him.