Basic Supreme Court Knowledge.

You know, I had this thread as part of another thread on Louis Brandeis when I realized it would make a good thread in its own right. Plus it worries me that people aren’t as knowledgeable as they could be in this area (very big decisions, as you will see, may be made in the near future). So here it is in its entirety. Enjoy!–

Arm Yourself with Knowledge.
Whether you are pro-choice or pro-life, you have to admit that alot of things are going to be decided with Mr. Bush’s Supreme Ct. appointments. So why not arm yourself with knowledge?

The Supreme Ct. is usually divided into three “wings”: the “conservative” wing, the “centrist” wing and the “liberal” wing. Please note that at this point the conservative wing is also the most reactionary, because it favors the overturning of all the recent precedents–esp.Roe v. Wade.

“Conservative”: *William Rehnquist (appointed by Richard Nixon), Antonin Scalia (" " Ronald Reagan), Clarence Thomas (" " George Bush, Sr.). *
“Centrist”: *Sandra Day O’Connor (first appointment of Ronald Reagan), Anthony Kennedy (by Ronald Reagan), and David Souter (by George Bush, Sr.). [As you can see the first appointment of a president is often, though not always, a "centrist’.] *
“Liberal”: John Paul Stevens (appointed by Gerald Ford) [it is ironic to note that when Mr. Stevens was appointed, he was considered a “centrist”. He has always been a Republican.], Ruth Bader Ginsburg (by Bill Clinton), Stephen Breyer (by Bill Clinton). Please note Mr. Stevens, though a Republican, is considered the most “liberal” person on the court.

CONSERVATIVE-Meaningless–or at least confusing–when it comes to the Supreme Ct. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a conservative when it comes to Roe v. Wade because she wants to conserve the precedent while Clarence Thomas takes the more liberal judicial activist view.
JUDICIAL ACTIVIST:A justice who takes the view that the precedent should be overturned and replaced with what he feels is right. All the judicial activist on the court now are right-wing, and thus [ironically] in the conservative position on the court.
JUDICIAL RESTRAINT:The view that when deciding a case, a justice should follow only what the precedent is in the matter and put his/her personal feeling aside. Such a justice would also be using the doctrine of stare decisis.
ORIGINAL INTENT:View that a justice should only take the view of the Constitution that our Founding Fathers would have. Problems: Needless to say, this is a very limited view. For example, torturing a suspect to confess would not have been unheard of 200 yrs. ago. But there is another reason why some right-wing people may not like this: Free Speech restrictions. 200 yrs. ago there were only 3 restrictions on Free Speech: (1) Slander and libel, (2) Sedition, and (3) Blasphemy. Oh, sure many new conservatives would like the blasphemy part. But where is obscenity? Believe it or not, it only came later. Go figure.
STARE DECISIS:The doctrine that you must uphold the precedent in any given case. Lower courts have no choice, they must do this. Supreme Court justices do so voluntarily if they hold the JUDICIAL RESTRAINT view.
STRICT CONSTRUCTIONALISM:The view that when interpreting a document–in this case the Constitution–one should confine oneself to the words alone and add nothing else. Again the problem is a right-wing one: not only can you not find obscenity restrictions, but where do you get the sedition restrictions. Clearly a justice who found some would be adding them his or herself. Go figure again.

I hope this has been informative. I welcome any corrections, in case I made a mistake above. And remember to get involved–whatever your political beliefs may be. Thank you all for your time.


To get the thread over here I simply copied and pasted it. But for some reason, the copied version didn’t include any of my bolds, italics, etc. So I readded them in a way a judged to be more festive.

That last “festive” remark was obviously a joke. But seriously, thanks to all of you who take the time to reply to or even just read my post. :slight_smile:

I beg to differ. The last liberals on the Court were Brennan and Marshall, the supposed liberals a definitely centrists. Scalia and Thomas are so reactionary as be fascists, not conservatives.

I take issue with your definition of judicial activism/restraint. Those terms mean the extent to which a judge goes beyond the meaning of the Constitution or a statute to inserts his own beliefs; “activism” is understood to mean “legislating from the bench,” i.e., using federal judicial powers to craft law without a clear Constitutional or statutory “hook.”

It has nothing to do with precedent. If a line of precedents are viewed as going beyond what is provided for in the Constitution or in federal statutory law, a proponent of judicial restraint would want to undo those precedents. It is not judcial activism to want to undo prior examples of activism.

Of course, when a judge has crossed the line from “mere interpretation” into “legislating from the bench” is a murky question, and could easily consume multiple GD threads. But your attempt to paint the conservative justices as judicial activists is a gross misuse of the term.

Your understanding of original intent theory is a little underdeveloped as well. OI advocates stress that new technologies and issues should be handled by asking “how would have the framers handled this issue?” Thus, obscenity (which wasn’t exactly in wide circulation in 1787) and things like wiretaps should have their constitutionality determined by trying to figure out how the framers would have handled them (or so says the OI advocate). There are clearly problems with this approach (as there are problems with any mode of constitutional interpretation), but the problems with OI are more subtle than you seem to think.

John Paul Stevens, in my experience, writes the most accessible opinions of all the currently-sitting Justices. It’s a shame that he’s also the oldest member of the present Court and, very likely, the next to retire.

Thomas? Isn’t he just a sock puppet for Rehnquist?

BTW, if anyone still wants the hyperlink to my Louis Brandeis thread it should be this. I don’t why it didn’t work in my OP. If it doesn’t work this time, I’m just forgetting about it.

You know, the upcoming midterms are very significant. The president can only appoint justices with the Advice and Consent of the Senate. So please, whatever your political beliefs may be, take part in what is going on. Vote and encourage other people to vote too. Don’t just do it for me, do it for yourself and your friends and country. And remember:

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.


Another Supreme Court myth involves the angry citizen who says, “I’m going to appeal this ALL THE WAY TO THE SUPREME COURT!” But you can’t really do that. If the Supreme Court doesn’t decide it wants to take your case, you’re outta luck.