The Supreme Court has undergone a lot of change in the past five years, with four appointments to the Court.
George W. Bush appointed John Roberts as Chief Justice and Samuel Alito as an Associate Justice, while Barack Obama chose Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan as Associate Justices.
Roberts has certainly made his impact as Chief Justice, and has become controversial because of his activism, which contradicts his testimony that he believed in “stare decisis”, the role of precedent in deciding whether to accept past Court decisions. Instead, Roberts has become a confrontational Chief Justice, including criticizing President Obama for attacking the revolutionary Citizens United Case of January, 2010.
Alito seemed to be quieter, but this year, he openly objected to Obama’s criticism of the Citizens United Case, and is now regarded as an outspoken conservative firebrand in the same vein as Roberts, meaning that the four conservatives on the Court are very aggressive in their advocacy. No one would ever accuse Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas as being “wallflowers” in their activist views, even though Scalia claims to be an advocate of “originalism”, interpreting the Constitution based on the actions of the Constitutional Convention of 1787.
But the liberal side of the Court has also been much more outspoken. Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, now the oldest member of the Court, is certainly willing to express her views, and Justice Stephen Breyer is seen as the intellectual leader of the liberal wing of the Court.
But even the newest Justices are making clear their liberal tendencies. Justice Sotomayor is seen by the New York Times as “guiding” the liberal wing. Sotomayor spoke up for prisoner rights, with a challenge by Justice Alito.
And Justice Elena Kagan has joined Sotomayor in what is described as a subtle shift of the Court, with Sotomayor more passionate and Kagan as a “bridge builder”, but yet seen as strengthening the liberal wing. Kagan is seen as having the ability to draw Anthony Kennedy, the truly independent member of the Court, to consider her side of the issue, much like John Paul Stevens used to be able to do that in his latter years on the Court.
What this all means is that the Supreme Court is in constant readjustment of nine human beings, with evolution of the dynamics fascinating to watch and to evaluate on a regular basis! 🙂