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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Caution: Courts May Slant Rightward!

Conservative presidents have left a lasting legacy on the courts. Well, yes. We've been saying that for some time, and now USA Today and influential legal conservatives agree. Yesterday, USA Today examined the effect that the court-packing policies initiated by Ronald Reagan have had on the judiciary, particularly at the circuit court level. And today, US News & World Report discussed a study by Seventh Circuit Appeals Court Judge Richard Posner and University of Chicago Law Professor William Landes which attempts to classify the political ideology of Supreme Court justices over the past 70 years.

Joan Biskupic’s USA Today piece points to the troubling successes conservative justices have had over the past two decades in advancing their agenda, without regard for precedent.
They became the first judges in more than a half-century to say the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to own guns. They took the lead in ruling against affirmative action and other race-conscious policies. And they upheld bans on an abortion procedure called “partial birth” before it reached the Supreme Court.
Judge Posner and Professor Landes’ study also paints a troubling picture of the current make-up of the federal bench. While the study’s results are not particularly surprising, its implications are quite disheartening. Five of the ten most conservative Supreme Court justices over the last 70 years are currently serving on the Roberts Court, including four of the top five. Alternatively, only one of the ten most liberal justices – Ruth Bader Ginsburg – remains on the bench.

Beyond the obvious implications of this study, US News & World Report explains that there is an even more disturbing trend uncovered by the Judge Posner and Professor Landes.
The authors were surprised to find a dramatic pooling effect over the years every time a conservative justice joined the court. “The larger the fraction of justices appointed by Republican presidents,” they write, “the more conservatively each Justice [votes].”
The disproportionate power conservative judges wield in our courts is precisely why Alliance for Justice fights as hard as it does to preserve an independent judiciary. It is also why we have called on the Senate to halt confirmation proceedings for President Bush’s remaining circuit court nominees. With six months left until the election, we can only hope that the next president will respect the historical role of the judiciary in enforcing our constitutional rights and protections. To learn more about this issue, check out our website at http://www.afj.org/connect-with-the-issues/independent-courts-fair-judges.html.

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