The numbers on the extent to which this was a “liberal” Supreme Court Term
on Jun 29, 2015 at 1:37 pm
There is a lot of commentary about the unusually liberal results of this Term. I thought I would mention a few data points which back up that view of things.
For present purposes, I treat four Justices as sitting to the Court’s left: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. I treat four Justices as sitting to the Court’s right: Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito. I treat Justice Anthony Kennedy as the Court’s “center.”
I count 26 cases this Term that were both close (5-4 or 6-3) and ideological (in the sense that they broke down principally on ideological lines, with ideology seemingly an important factor).
Of the 26 cases, the left prevailed in 19. Those included the first 9 of the Term. The right prevailed in 7.
In the 26, a Justice on the left voted with the right a total of 3 times. In 2 cases, those votes determined the outcome and produced a more conservative result, because Justice Kennedy or one of the conservatives voted for the more liberal result.
In the 26, a Justice on the right voted with the left 14 times. In 6 cases, those votes determined the outcome and produced a more liberal result, because Justice Kennedy voted for the more conservative result.
I also considered the 10 cases I consider most significant. Of those, the left prevailed in 8. Those included the first 7 of the Term. (I mention the early cases to give a sense of how the results must have appeared inside the Court as the Term went along.) The right prevailed in 2, both in the final sitting of the Term.
In the 10, no Justice on the left voted with the right; the four Justices on the left voted together in every one of those cases. A Justice on the right voted with the left 4 times. Those votes determined the outcome in 2 cases, because Justice Kennedy voted for the more conservative result.
Note that the analysis above is skewed against finding the Term particularly liberal by treating Justice Kennedy as the Court’s “center.” That is true ideologically, but he is certainly a conservative. If he were characterized that way for my analysis, the number of defections to the left would be much higher.
By that measure, a Justice on the right voted with the left 25 times (compared with 3 times the reverse happened). That occurred in all 10 of the 10 major cases (because no Justice on the left voted with the right in any of those cases), and determined the outcome in all of them.