Scott Kuhagen

Thoughts on law and policy, immigration-related and otherwise.

The Supremes, Graphed

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The New York Times had a fascinating article today, along with some good graphs, that depict the Supreme Court, as led by Chief Justice Roberts, as the most conservative Court in decades. The central finding, based on analysis of political science data (while acknowledging that there is some methodological imprecision in treating decisions this way):

But only one change — Justice Alito’s replacement of Justice O’Connor — really mattered. That move defines the Roberts court. “That’s a real switch in terms of ideology and a switch in terms of outlook,” said Lee Epstein, who teaches law and political science at Northwestern University and is a leading curator and analyst of empirical data about the Supreme Court.

The point is not that Justice Alito has turned out to be exceptionally conservative, though he has: he is the third-most conservative justice to serve on the court since 1937, behind only Justice Thomas and Chief Justice Rehnquist. It is that he replaced the more liberal justice who was at the ideological center of the court.

Though Chief Justice Roberts gets all the attention, Justice Alito may thus be the lasting triumph of the administration of President George W. Bush. He thrust Justice Kennedy to the court’s center and has reshaped the future of American law.

The whole article is worth reading, but as a visual learner what I really appreciated were the graphs. Here’s one of them:

NYT SCOTUS Graph July 2010

Tracking conservative decisions since the Warren Court

There’s even a short quiz — six questions long — that attempts to place you on the spectrum of liberal to conservative. I ended up closest to Justice Stevens, but I suppose that’s not a surprise. Overall, good effort by the NYT with this in-depth look at the Supreme Court.

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