The Daily Circuit dove into recent Supreme Court activity. Here are some takeaways from the conversation:
About two-thirds of decisions handed down by the Court this term were unanimous. This figure is strikingly high when compared to the Court's recent history.
Chief Justice John Roberts has long sought to achieve a greater level of consensus among the justices, said Tim Johnson, professor of political science at the University of Minnesota, on The Daily Circuit. But it is only in this term that this strategy has started to gel.
Roberts is also very aware of his place in history, said Kimberly Atkins, Washington Bureau chief at Lawyers Weekly. "He doesn't want to be known as the chief justice over a divided court."
- • Unanimity is more likely in narrow, rather than broad, decisions. In other words, it's easier for justices to agree when they don't believe their ruling will have far-reaching consequences or be applied across a wide swath of circumstances.
There was no way to write the Hobby Lobby decision narrowly enough to achieve unanimity, Atkins argued. But the Court's unanimous decision in June related to abortion buffer zones was very carefully worded to focus specifically on the facts of that particular case, she said.
There is a fair amount of uncertainty about how far reaching the Hobby Lobby decision will turn out to be. While some argue it opens the flood gates for institutions to refuse to offer basic healthcare, others disagree.
What's likely to happen is what happens after many Supreme Court rulings, Atkins said, and that's a bit of wait-and-see. Lower courts will hear similar cases and begin to flesh out how far the principles of Hobby Lobby apply. If those courts rule in different ways, ultimately the question will go back to the Supreme Court, she said.
- • Justice Ruth Ginsburg has long used the power of the dissent to emphasize to the public, Congress and the president that an important issue is at stake and action can be taken to counter the Court's decision. She continues to do this today. In some cases - like Lilly Ledbetter -- Atkins said Congress or the president will act quickly to change the law. In others, "it's as if Congress didn't hear," she said.
Justice Anthony Kennedy is a "driving force on the Court," Atkins said. In the last 10 of the Court's 5-4 decisions, Kennedy was in the majority across the board and the swing vote in six.
"He wants to be sort of on the right side of things, Johnson said, "on the correct side in his estimation."
Justice Sonia Sotomayor appears to be making her mark on the court, making sure her voice is heard. This was perhaps most evident in her passionate dissent on an affirmative action case this spring.
What do you think of the Supreme Court's latest rulings? Leave your comments below.