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The Supreme Court

Activism Takes Over the Court

The Warren Court threw down the gauntlet in moving the court in a liberal direction. The Burger Court tried unsuccessfully to take up the challenge and reverse the Warren's Court successes, especially in the area of criminal rights. Burger's lack of strong leadership left a fractured court that was not able to live up to the dreams of Nixon's conservative constituency.

Reagan rekindled those efforts when he elevated Rehnquist to the position of Chief Justice and appointed conservatives Sandra Day O'Connor and Antonin Scalia. Rehnquist's court did not have the votes to overturn Roe v. Wade and most of the Warren Court decisions, but that could change if the Bush Administration is able to shift the balance toward the conservative wing with future appointments. If Rehnquist leaves the court, as is expected by many, appointing a conservative would not shift the balance, but if one of the moderate or liberal justices leaves, the Court's balance could be changed for years to come.

Either way, the age of judicial activism, whether liberal or conservative, is firmly in place and likely will dominate judicial appointments for a long time, if not forever. The judiciary has certainly become much more political since the social revolution started by the Warren Court. In the next section, we'll briefly discuss other chief justices who influenced the building of the court.

book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to The Supreme Court © 2004 by Lita Epstein, J.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.


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