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Supreme Court rulings reflect Bush's stamp

  • Story Highlights
  • This Supreme Court has overturned earlier rulings by a more liberal bench
  • Bush effect: High court overturned decisions on abortion, campaign finance, race
  • The Supreme Court's makeup may be a bigger issue in the 2008 elections
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By Bill Schneider
CNN Senior Political Analyst
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Back in 1900, writer Finley Peter Dunne quoted Mr. Dooley, his fictional Irish bartender, as saying, "The Supreme Court follows the election returns."

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With his appointments, President Bush in a short time has created a Supreme Court that leans to the right.

That's certainly the case with President Bush.

"The Roberts court is a different court because George Bush won the last election and John Kerry did not," CNN Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin said. "That is the beginning and end of the reason why this is a much more conservative Supreme Court than two years ago."

In several significant cases this year, a conservative majority on the new court has overturned rulings made by a liberal majority on the old court.

In 2000, the old court threw out a state ban on late-term abortions by a five-to-four vote. This year, the new court upheld the ban by five to four.

In 2003, the old court upheld the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law by five to four. This week, the new court struck down the section of that law restricting issue advertising -- five to four.

In 2003, by five to four, the old court allowed the use of race as a criterion for admission in higher education. This week, by five to four, the new court struck down the use of race as a criterion for placing students in public schools.

On the old court, three reliably conservative justices were joined by moderate conservative Anthony Kennedy. Four reliable liberals were joined by then-Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

On the new court, Bush has replaced Chief Justice William Rehnquist with Chief Justice John Roberts -- an even more reliable conservative vote. He also replaced O'Connor with Associate Justice Samuel Alito, who has shifted the majority to the conservatives.

When presidents nominated justices in the past, ideology was one consideration among many.

President Reagan was fulfilling a pledge to appoint a woman when he named O'Connor. When the Senate rejected Robert Bork after a bruising ideological fight, Reagan named a moderate conservative, Associate Justice Kennedy, to avoid another battle.

The first President Bush picked Associate Justice David Souter, whose views were unknown. He, too, wanted to avoid a fight with a Democratic Senate.

"Presidents didn't used to run for office making promises about the kind of justices they would appoint," Toobin said. "But President George W. Bush did, and he has delivered on those promises by transforming the court in a short period of time."

But was the court an issue to voters? In 2004, a Newsweek poll asked Americans how important each of 11 different issues would be in their vote for president.

The results, in order of importance, were the economy, health care, education, Iraq, terrorism, Social Security, taxes, the deficit, foreign policy, the environment and -- at the bottom of the list -- the Supreme Court.

In 2008, the court could be a bigger issue.

"The stakes in the next presidential election are actually huge, because the only likely retirees are on the left," attorney Tom Goldstein said. "A Republican president could really swing the Supreme Court in a very conservative direction, or a Democratic president could hold the line against further movement to the right."

So, yes, the Supreme Court did follow the election returns. After all, you could argue that in 2000, the election returns followed the Supreme Court. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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