June 28, 2003
Supreme court moves left?

That seems to be the jist of this AP article (via Yahoo! News), discussing several of the surprise rulings in the last week.

WASHINGTON - In blockbuster rulings on affirmative action and gay rights and in less heralded decisions this term, a Supreme Court dominated by conservative jurists looked less conservative than it has in years.

"On vitally important issues to social conservatives, they suffered serious defeats this term," said Thomas Goldstein, a Washington lawyer who specializes in the Supreme Court. "There was not a single victory to balance it out."

Of course, the writer is quick to point out that the court has not gone all mushy on us:

That is not to say the court abandoned its conservative leanings.

A string of law-and-order rulings strengthened government powers to go after suspects and punish criminals. For example, the court upheld the nation's strictest "three-strikes" law, ruling that a California man's 50-years-to-life sentence for stealing videotapes was not unconstitutionally harsh.

Those tough-on-crime rulings were in keeping with the court's rightward shift under Rehnquist's leadership, a path that has taken the court far from its progressive stance under the Civil Rights era stewardship of Chief Justice Earl Warren.

It is a mark of the current court's fundamentally conservative outlook that all nine justices voted to allow Michigan to cancel family visits for prisoners caught with drugs, and that a six-member majority said Congress can require public libraries to block objectionable material on their Internet terminals or lose federal money.

The further we get away from the Earl Warren era, the better off we will be. While some of the Warren Court's rulings were sound and/or necessary, most of them were ill-conceived experiments in social engineering, a role that the court should never assign to itself.

It is ludicrous to call the court fundamentally conservative because all nine justices agreed on a law that is opposed by far-left prisoner's right groups. They all agreed because it was constitutionally sound, not because Ginsberg, Souter, and Stevens suddenly started channeling J. Edgar Hoover, Tomás de Torquemada, and Adolf Hitler.

The article continues with this:

Rehnquist and fellow conservative Justices Scalia and Clarence Thomas still eld sway in a large percentage of the 73 cases decided this term. The three usually vote together and prevail when they can attract one or both of the court's center-right justices, Reagan appointees Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony M. Kennedy.

I suppose this means that Stevens, Ginsburg, and Souter don't often vote as a bloc, and that Breyer seldom joins them to create a four-bloc vote that needs only one of the two centrist judges (usually O'Connor, sometimes Kennedy) to create a majority.

The writer is really straining to create the image that the court is really something out of the middle ages, and that this year was an aberrent burst of rationality and right-thinking. At least the article had quotes from conservatives who dissented with the court's rulings, although they picked foaming-at-the-mouth Pat Robertson and a Pepperdine University professor who sounds like he's sure the apocalypse is upon us because of the new rulings. It would have been nice to have conservatives who were a little bit more rational.

posted on June 28, 2003 07:43 PM


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