Liptak Roberts Court - Reprints This copy is for your...

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Reprints This copy is for your personal, noncommercial use only. You can order presentation-ready copies for distribution to your colleagues, clients or customers here or use the "Reprints" tool that appears next to any article. Visit www.nytreprints.com for samples and additional information. Order a reprint of this article now. July 24, 2010 Court Under Roberts Is Most Conservative in Decades By ADAM LIPTAK WASHINGTON — When Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and his colleagues on the Supreme Court left for their summer break at the end of June, they marked a milestone: the Roberts court had just completed its fifth term. In those five years, the court not only moved to the right but also became the most conservative one in living memory, based on an analysis of four sets of political science data. And for all the public debate about the confirmation of Elena Kagan or the addition last year of Justice Sonia Sotomayor , there is no reason to think they will make a difference in the court’s ideological balance. Indeed, the data show that only one recent replacement altered its direction, that of Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 2006, pulling the court to the right. There is no similar switch on the horizon. That means that Chief Justice Roberts, 55, is settling in for what is likely to be a very long tenure at the head of a court that seems to be entering a period of stability. If the Roberts court continues on the course suggested by its first five years, it is likely to allow a greater role for religion in public life, to permit more participation by unions and corporations in elections and to elaborate further on the scope of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. Abortion rights are likely to be curtailed, as are affirmative action and protections for people accused of crimes. The recent shift to the right is modest. And the court’s decisions have hardly been uniformly conservative. The justices have, for instance, limited the use of the death penalty and rejected broad claims of executive power in the government’s efforts to combat terrorism. But scholars who look at overall trends rather than individual decisions say that widely accepted political science data tell an unmistakable story about a notably conservative court.
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Almost all judicial decisions, they say, can be assigned an ideological value. Those favoring, say, prosecutors and employers are said to be conservative, while those favoring criminal defendants and people claiming discrimination are said to be liberal. Analyses of databases coding Supreme Court decisions and justices’ votes along these lines, one going back to 1953 and another to 1937, show that the Roberts court has staked out territory to the right of the two conservative courts that immediately preceded it by four distinct measures: ¶In its first five years, the Roberts court issued conservative decisions 58 percent of the time. And in the term ending a year ago, the rate rose to 65 percent, the highest number in any year since at least 1953.
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  • Fall '10
  • Ringsmuth
  • Supreme Court of the United States, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Justice O’Connor, Roberts Court, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

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