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Conservative Justices Leave Their Mark

Publication Date: 
July 03, 2010
San Francisco Chronicle
Bob Egelko

Professor Pamela Karlan and Lecturer Tom Goldstein, who teach the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, discuss in the San Francisco Chronicle about the politics behind the Supreme Court Justices’ image as practitioners of judicial restraint:

The winners in the 2009-10 U.S. Supreme Court term included corporate campaign donors, gun owners and dealers, prosecutors - except for those in white-collar crime and corruption cases - and immigrants.

The biggest loser may have been the justices' image as practitioners of judicial restraint, or, as Chief Justice John Roberts put it at his 2005 confirmation hearing, as umpires who simply call balls and strikes.


"This is not a minimalist court, except when it wants to be," said Pamela Karlan, a Stanford law professor. It is also, she said, "a court that's much more friendly to the powerful than the powerless."


Thomas Goldstein, a Supreme Court practitioner and founder of the influential Web site, said he thinks much of the liberal criticism is overstated.

The court often "walks in baby steps rather than leaps and bounds," Goldstein said. He cited the recent gun ruling, which left most local regulations in place, and another end-of-term decision that tweaked the rules for a federal accounting board while preserving the 2002 law that increased government oversight of publicly traded companies.

Nonetheless, Goldstein said, on issues like campaign finance "at the heart of the conservative agenda," Roberts' court is "quite aggressive in doing what it thinks is correcting the excesses of a more liberal court."