November 30, 2000
The men and women on the United States Supreme Court may hold the fate of the 2000 election in their gavels.
Here, a who's who of the nine who must decide the Election 2000.
Supreme Court Justices are, by their very nature, notoriously hard to read — a fact which makes taking the pulse of this mysterious group especially challenging.
Nevertheless, legal experts have managed to come up with a few dependable generalizations about this Court: They support states rights, favor a limited judiciary role and often refer controversial cases back to the state legislature.
Will the Justices play to type? Or will they, perhaps, surprise us?
Chief Justice William Rehnquist Appointed by Richard Nixon in 1972, Rehnquist replaced Warren Burger as Chief Justice in 1986. Rehnquist is a strict constructionist (he interprets the Constitution in very narrow terms) who leans conservative. Very much in favor of states' rights. Often speaks in terms of leaving issues up to the "people's branch in government," i.e., the legislature. Widely considered a skilled consensus-builder.
Steven Breyer The most junior member of the Court, Breyer was appointed by Bill Clinton in 1994, replacing Harry Blackmun. Breyer is seen as a pragmatist who often takes issue with Justices Scalia and Thomas's narrow view of constitutional rights, preferring to consider the impact of law on the lives of everyday people. Rose to prominence and gained respect of congressional Republicans after deconstructing extremely complex deregulation guidelines for the airline industry. Often sides with the liberal wing of the Court: Justices Souter, Ginsburg and Stevens.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg Named to the Court in 1993 by Bill Clinton, Ginsburg replaced Byron White. Ginsburg is well known for her commitment to striking down laws that treat men and women differently; Clinton called her "the Thurgood Marshall of gender equity law." She shares Justice Breyer's conviction that law should serve the individual. Most likely to side with Justices Souter, Stevens and Breyer.
Anthony Kennedy Following on the tail of a bitter congressional battle over unsuccessful Reagan nominees Robert Bork and Douglas Ginsburg, Anthony Kennedy was confirmed easily in 1988. A moderate who often helps Rehnquist build necessary compromises, Kennedy tends to examine each case on an individual basis, and seems uninterested in making larger political statements.
Sandra Day O'Connor The first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, O'Connor was nominated by Ronald Reagan and took her seat in 1981. O'Connor is a fan of federalism and shies from personally interpreting the Constitution. She tends to side with the more liberal Justices on many of the most controversial cases, including those involving abortion rights and the separation of church and state, but writes narrow concurring opinions that often become law because they also appease the dissenting conservative sentiment.
Antonin Scalia Since his Reagan-sponsored appointment in 1986, Scalia has become a favorite son of the conservative movement. He does not believe the courts should play a significant role in the work of the executive and legislative branches, believes checks and balances between the three branches of government are necessary and critical, and often argues that the law's primary role is to protect "the liberties of the people" from the unchecked powers of any of the three branches. Scalia favors a very strict reading of the Constitution and has attempted repeatedly to strike down Roe v. Wade, saying that abortion is a political issue that should not be decided by the court. Scalia is often seconded by Clarence Thomas.
David H. Souter Nominated by George Bush in 1990, Souter replaced William Brennan. In the decade since he joined the bench, Souter has emerged as the Court's most influential moderate, often working with Sandra Day O'Connor to establish a centrist opinion. Souter has a strong respect for precedent and tends to be cautious in his opinions. A quirky traditionalist, Souter has very few possessions and calls himself a Luddite. When asked in 1996 whether cameras would be allowed in the SCOTUS courtroom, he famously replied, "When they roll them over my dead body."
Senior Associate Justice John Paul Stevens Stevens took to the bench in 1975 after being nominated by Gerald Ford to replace William Douglas. A true independent, Stevens can be unpredictable in his opinions, but he always considers the effects of a ruling on society. Tends to defer to Congress as a decision-making body, and downplays the authority of the courts. Often sides with Justices Breyer, Ginsburg and Souter, but also writes more lone dissents than any other Justice.
Clarence Thomas Appointed by George Bush in 1991, Thomas replaced Thurgood Marshall in the closest confirmation vote in over a century (52-48). Since then, Thomas has earned a reputation as a conservative, in part for his very narrow reading of individual rights under the Constitution. He opposes affirmative action and Roe v. Wade, supports limited power for the Supreme Court and opposes the view that the Constitution is designed "to address all of the ills in our society." Thomas sides most often with Justice Scalia, concurring with the more senior judge almost 90 percent of the time.