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The Roberts Court and the Role of Precedent

Publication Date: 
July 03, 2007
Nina Totenberg

Professor Pam Karlan, Professor and Former Dean Kathleen Sullivan and Lecturer in Law Tommy Goldstein were featured on an NPR Morning Edition segment about the recent Supreme Court term:

SULLIVAN: What we actually have is a pretty bold conservative agenda, but it's clothed in that gentle language of judicial modesty and restraint.

NINA TOTENBERG: Or as Stanford professor Pam Karlan puts it...

KARLAN: I think practically, the court has overruled a number of cases. But the chief can say with a straight face, I didn't vote to overrule it. I simply limited the earlier decision to its facts, or I refused to extend the earlier decision.

TOTENBERG: The court was more polarize than at any time in recent memory, with fully one-third of the court's decisions reached by a five-to-four vote. And the liberals spoke with an unusually unified voice in dissent. As Justice Stephen Bryer put it in the school desegregation cases, it is not often in the law that so few have so quickly changed so much. The court's new swing justice, Anthony Kennedy, was in the majority in each of the 24 five-to-four rulings.

GOLDSTEIN: No justice has had so strong an influence on a Supreme Court term in at least 40 years. When you talk about the raw number of decisions, where he dissented only twice, or the five-four decisions where he was never in dissent, it was unquestionably Justice Kennedy's term, and it looks like its Justice Kennedy's court.