Rao on Voice of America: Too Early to Predict Supreme Court Swing to Right

Despite contentions that the appointments of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito have caused the U.S. Supreme Court to veer sharply to the right, Professor Neomi Rao told Voice of America it is too early to make that kind of prediction.

In her dissent, Rao, who clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas, cited what she perceives to be displeasure on the parts of Justices Scalia and Thomas for the more moderate pace of the Court in approaching some of its liberal precedents. 

Conservatives Hold Edge on US Supreme Court, Voice of America, July 11, 2007. By Jim Fry.

"Moderates and liberals on the court won five of the one-vote margins. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, Steven Breyer and David Souter were joined in those rulings by Kennedy. 

"In one example, they ruled the federal government can limit car emissions in order to control gasses that contribute to global warming.

"Kennedy -- on the winning side in every close case -- has become the court's crucial swing vote. But Turley says he is tacking rightward. 'In many ways, Justice Kennedy has sort of run home.  He has become a more reliable conservative.'

"In their confirmation hearings, Chief Justice Roberts and Alito both told the U.S. Senate they were inclined to follow the legal doctrine called 'stare decisis' -- a principle based on established legal precedent.

"Some conservatives say the Roberts court has not boldly overturned precedents established by a more liberal court two or more decades ago.  And Rao, who clerked for Thomas, says both he and Scalia appear irritated and unhappy.

"'Some of the concurring opinions -- especially the ones that Justice Scalia wrote -- were rather angry and very critical of the chief justice's "pose" of minimalism,' says Rao.

"The court made an abrupt turn on two cases involving civil liberties. It tightened limits on student speech -- allowing a school administrator to punish high school students who unfurled a banner interpreted as celebrating drug use.

"And justices limited the ability of schools to assign students on the basis of race in efforts to integrate public schools. It is a decision that could affect classrooms across the U.S.  'Literally, there are hundreds -- if not thousands -- of ways race is used.  All of those are now suspect and so it can mean a very significant change,' Turley said.

"Change is what President Bush promised on the court.  Even as his popularity and power now wane, Mr. Bush's new justices will guide the law for a generation or more."

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