The Supreme Court last week concluded its first full term with President Bushs two nominees in place, and the outcome was simultaneously unsurprising and disappointing. The 2006-07 term was unsurprising because Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. emerged as the reliably conservative justices that we expected them to be. There was little doubt that Justice Alitos replacing Sandra Day OConnor would shift the court measurably to the right.
But the term was also disappointing because of the unvarying, lock-step nature of the voting patterns of the two newest justices. They agreed more than any other pair, and there was no case on which they reached an unanticipated conclusion. For all the chief justices description of the judge as an impartial umpire merely calling balls and strikes, this term made clear that one set of four conservative umpires sees one strike zone; one set of four more-liberal justices sees another; and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy mostly, but not invariably, calls pitches the same way as the conservatives.
There were exceptions to the conservative tilt - most notably the ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency has a duty to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, the courts surprise decision to add to next terms docket a case on the rights of Guantanamo detainees suggests that a majority is unwilling to go as far as the Bush administration would like in granting the executive branch unchecked power in the war on terrorism. But in areas from abortion rights to campaign finance to school desegregation, the Roberts court changed the law in unfortunate ways.
The term was disappointing, as well, because it demonstrated the apparent futility of the chief justices hope of achieving more consensus and even unanimity. If anything, this court seemed more fractured than ever.
- Washington Post
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