Supreme Court: Rightward Shift?

26 March 2013 |permalink | email article

A new Pew Research Center poll shows conservatives think the Supreme Court is a bunch of liberals, while liberals think the court is a bunch of conservatives. The Washington Post raises the question about who is right, and looks at two competing theories compiled by academics at two major universities First are the ideology scores put out by Washington University in St. Louis. The so-called Quinn—Martin scores show the court trending significantly to the right in recent years, with even its left flank being relatively middle-of-the road, relative to history. The court’s five more conservative justices, meanwhile, are clearly right-of-center, with four of them (Thomas, Scalia, Alito and Roberts) being among the most conservative justices since 1935. This suggests the court has a clear conservative majority in addition to a left-wing that isn’t all that left-wing.

Another measure of the ideology of the Supreme Court justices comes from Michael A. Bailey at Georgetown University. While Bailey shows the court has become significantly more conservative since, for example, the 1960, he still pegs the four liberal justices as clearly to the left of the court, historically speaking. In addition, Bailey’s model actually suggest the court, while more conservative than in most of the last several decades, isn’t all that much more so than it was in the 1970s or when Sandra Day O’Connor was the swing vote in the 1990s and early 2000s He also shows the left wing not moving to the middle but getting more liberal. What both of them agree on, though, is that the swing vote in both charts, with the exception of the 1960s, has been consistently a little to the right of center. 

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