So has Bush Transformed the Supreme Court?
What will the legal landscape look like in 10 years? Make your predictions and place your bets. . . .
In a widely acclaimed book full of revelations about behind-the-scenes battles over the Court, Jan Crawford Greenburg, now of ABC News, says that after decades of disappointment, conservatives have finally won the day. The appointments of Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts will produce a "profound and lasting alteration," Greenburg writes in Supreme Conflict: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court. They and their allies will now engineer "one of the most fateful shifts in the country's judicial landscape in a generation... with repercussions as yet unimagined," she predicts.
"I'm not holding my breath," retorts Benjamin Wittes in The New Republic Online. Wittes, an author and a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution who until recently wrote the nation's smartest legal editorials for The Washington Post, highly recommends Greenburg's book (as do I) for its "genuinely spectacular" reporting. But he dissents from her view that Bush has set the stage for an era of conservative hegemony. . . .
First, the gist of the Greenburg-Wittes debate: She foresees that the 56-year-old Alito will tip to the conservative side those big 5-4 decisions that O'Connor had tipped to the liberal side. In addition, she says, the 52-year-old Roberts is more persuasive, more energetic, and no less conservative than his predecessor as chief justice. Third, both new justices have such strong conservative principles and legal minds that they are unlikely to drift leftward as have other Republican appointees, including John Paul Stevens, O'Connor, Anthony Kennedy, and David Souter. But Roberts and Alito are also more collegial and less confrontational than conservative Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, and thus less likely to alienate their more moderate (and liberal) colleagues.
Wittes responds that an improbable number of stars must align to bring about a dramatic transformation. The Court still has only four conservatives, he points out. Kennedy, now the key swing justice, has voted with the liberals on four of the five hottest issues, as detailed below, and is only shakily allied with the conservatives on the fifth. Roberts and Alito, unlike Scalia and Thomas, have not so far acted like conservative warriors itching to mow down forests of liberal precedents. To the contrary, the chief justice says his goal is to promote greater consensus by deciding cases on narrow, relatively uncontroversial grounds.
Then there are the wild cards. While liberal Justices Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg are 86 and 73 years old, respectively, Scalia and Kennedy are both 70. Who will outlast whom? And who will fill any vacancies?
A nice debate. But it's time for hard predictions. Here are mine, on the five (currently) hottest issues. . . .
Summarizing Taylor's predictions in the rest of the piece:
Abortion: not much of an effect
Race: could go either way
Religion: "Alito and Roberts will probably strike down fewer holiday nativity scenes, Ten Commandments displays . . ." Otherwise not much change.