Cross posted at The Progressive Pulse
For Progressives, it has been one ugly Supreme Court term. As outlined Sunday in The New York Times, the first full term of the Roberts Court shows how quickly and significantly the Supreme Court has staggered to the right. Go here for the details.
This is another stark reminder, as if we needed one, about how diminished America is under a Bush presidency as compared to what might have been with a Gore presidency.
As you may remember from their first debate in 2000, Bush indicated that he would appoint judges "in the mold of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas." Gore, for his part, favored appointing justices like Thurgood Marshall.
As advertised, Bush appointees John Roberts and Samuel Alito delivered the goods for the conservatives this term, voting with Scalia and Thomas 80-90% of the time. Or, as liberal Justice Stephen Breyer said from the bench on Thursday:
"It is not often in the law that so few have so quickly changed so much."
Anyone feeling wistful now about the Harriet Myers nomination?
All of which leads me to former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Earl Warren (1953-1969). Brother, do I wish he were the Chief Brethren now. I like to read biographies, and the one I finished recently on Earl Warren is the best I have read in years. It is Justice For All: Earl Warren and the Nation He Made by Jim Newton. Read it.
Although he has been demonized by the right for his "judicial activism," most Americans will recognize the contributions of the Warren Court to the institutions and values we cherish today. Most famously, the 1954 Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Brown v. Board of Education:
"We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."
And thus the groundwork was laid for the civil rights movement to proceed (unfortunately, Eisenhower's support was tepid at best, and meaningful desegregation did not take place for 10 years). After desegregation, the Warren Court presided over cases that guaranteed voting rights for minorities, revolutionized police procedure (Miranda rights), established a constitutional right of privacy (notably cited in Roe v Wade in 1973), abolished school prayer, and confirmed the right of all defendants to have an attorney.
Mostly, though, Earl Warren strived to determine what was fair. In so doing, he became a champion of justice for all. Jim Newton concludes his biography with this:
"Someone needs to look after the law, as Warren did, to see not only that it is faithful to its principles but also that it is effective in action, that it serves society and does not merely bind it, that it delivers not just abstract justice but actual fairness. In the decades since Warren left the Court, America has never suffered from too many men or women like him. It is equally true that the nation today-certainly the Court-is less fortunate not to have one of him."
...now, about that Gore presidency...