Friday, May 23, 2008

Is O'Connor back on the Court?

Linda Greenhouse on the dearth of 5-4 decisions this term (although there are still 32 decisions yet to come).

While quoting political scientists on the supposed "election effect" on the Court, i.e. not wanting to create or become an issue in an election year, she also noted the narrowness of the decisions.

...the lethal injection and voter ID decisions hewed closely to the facts of each case. Kentucky’s lethal injection protocol passed muster, but the court left open the possibility that another state’s practice might not. The voter ID challenge reached the court on a nonexistent record, so perhaps a stronger case could be made at a later time. Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion in the child pornography case construed the statute so narrowly as to allay the First Amendment concerns of Justices Stevens and Breyer and win their full concurrence.

This reminds me of a feature of the O'Connor jurisprudence which is not always a bad thing--treating each case on its merits, and addressing the facts in that case on their own terms, as opposed to conducting broader ideological battles in each decision.

There is a certain justice in this process in that each person gets their day in (the Supreme) Court to have their case heard on its merits--not in terms of a broader political struggle.

The problem is that many cases are brought as part of a political struggle, and that in some sense it is the job of the Court to engage in a fair degree of looking forward as to the effects of each decision (although who could have guessed the legs that Chevron would have).

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