Political Pulse July 2007

The Bush Court

President Bush has made good on his pledge to move the Supreme Court to the right. As a result, the Court could be more of an issue in the 2008 presidential race than it was in 2004.
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Back in 1900, author Finley Peter Dunne quoted Mr. Dooley, his fictional Irish saloonkeeper, as saying, "The Supreme Court follows the election returns."

That is certainly the case with the Supreme Court term that just ended. "The Roberts Court is a different Court because George Bush won the last election and John Kerry did not," legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said. "That is the beginning and end of the reason why this is a much more conservative Supreme Court than two years ago."

In several significant cases, a conservative majority that included both Bush appointees changed the Court's direction.

  • In 2000, the old Court threw out a state ban on late-term abortions by a 5-4 vote. This year, the new Court upheld such a ban by 5-4.
  • In 2003, the old Court upheld the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law by 5-4. Last week, in a 5-4 vote, the new Court struck down the section of that law restricting pre-election issue advertising.
  • In 2003, by 5-4, the old Court allowed the use of race as a criterion for admission to schools of higher education. Last week, by 5-4, the new Court struck down the use of race as a criterion for placing students in public schools.
  • On the old Court, three reliably conservative justices—William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas—were frequently joined by Anthony Kennedy, a moderate conservative. Four reliable liberals—Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter, and John Paul Stevens—were sometimes joined by Sandra Day O'Connor, a swing vote.

    On the new Court, Bush has replaced Rehnquist with John Roberts, an even more reliable conservative. He also replaced O'Connor with Samuel Alito, a reliable conservative. Alito's vote, along with that of Kennedy, shifted the Court's majority to the conservatives. The four liberal justices are now almost always in the minority on close votes.

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    William Schneider is the Cable News Network's senior political analyst. He is also a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., and a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times, National Journal, and The Atlantic Monthly. His column appears every week in National Journal, a weekly magazine covering politics and government published in Washington, D.C.

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