Supreme Court: It's a Dialog, Not an Isolated Oracle

Reporter looks back at 30 years and 2,691 decisions
By Matt Cantor,  Newser User
Posted Jul 13, 2008 5:00 AM CDT
In this June 15, 2006 file photo, Justices of the Supreme Court smile during a memorial for the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, at the Supreme Court in Washington.    (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
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(Newser) – Rather than boldly paving new roads, the Supreme Court functions largely as a bellwether of public opinion, cementing change “rather than propelling it,” writes Linda Greenhouse, looking back on some 30 years of reporting on the court for the New York Times. The justices don’t constitute a “remote oracle”--instead, they function as part of America’s ever-changing political dialog.

The public can override an opinion it dislikes, as in the 2002 decision in favor of school vouchers, a program which “stalled almost everywhere.” In other cases, court sentiment may bow to the public, as in a post-9/11 decision that boosted federal power despite a court agenda against federalism. In the end, while we may not have the court we want or need, “we have, most likely, the Supreme Court we deserve,” Greenhouse observes.