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Religious Tolerance logo

Laws relating to religion


Impact of appointments on the
balance of the U.S. Supreme Court


For many years, the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court had been deeply divided in their rulings on religious, cultural, and moral cases. Many decisions in these areas were by a split vote of 5 to 4. The division in the court mirrors the gulf seen in the rest of American culture, religion, and government. Any change in the delicate ratio of conservative to liberal justices would have a profound effect on the decisions of the Supreme Court, and on the future of U.S. law and culture.

This concern became widespread when Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a moderate conservative and a swing voter, decided in mid-2005 to retire from the Court. Then, in 2005-SEP, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, a conservative and strict constructionist, died.

Two conservative strict constructionists -- John G. Roberts, and Samuel Alito -- replaced Justice O'Connor and Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, thus shifting the court slightly to the right.

During 2009-APR, Justice David Souter, one of the four liberal judges on the court,  announced his intention to retire. President Obama nominated Judge Sonia Sotomayor as his replacement. His choice was confirmed by the Senate.

On 2016-FEB-13, Justice Atonin Scalia died at the age of 79. A month later, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to restore the complement of Justices on the court to nine. It is very important that an odd number of Justices serve on the court. Otherwise the court will often be deadlocked on many decisions, and the ruling of the lower court from which the case was appealed would stand. Republican members of Congress blocked hearings on Garland's nomination in the hopes that the next president who takes office in 2017-JAN, would be a Republican who would nominate a more conservative candidate to replace Justice Scalia. They have ignored their Constitutional responsibility to hold hearings on a replacement Justice far longer than any other candidate in history has had to wait. President-elect Donald Trump is expected to cancel President Obama's nomination and nominate a strict constructionist. Trump has promised to nominate only extreme conservatives in the future. That could have a profound effect on U.S. law and culture for generations.

Topics covered in this section:

bulletCourt changes, 2005 to 2009
bulletJudicial philosophies on the interpretation of constitutions & laws
bulletMore comments
bulletImplications of strict constructionist interpretations
bulletThe concept of personal privacy
bulletThe concept of separation of church and state
bulletPresident Bush's nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court
bulletResponse to the nomination of Judge John Roberts
bulletResponse to the nomination of Harriet Miers
bulletResponse to the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito
bulletPresident Obama's nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor:
bulletNomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, hearings, court diversity
bulletSupport, opposition, confirmation

Amazon.com lists the following books about the Supreme Court

Site navigation:

 Home page > Laws related to religion > here

Reference used:

  1. "Harriet Miers," Wikipedia, 2005-OCT-03, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/

Copyright © 2003-2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2016-NOV-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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