PHILADELPHIA - The U.S. Supreme Court released 82 rulings in its 2010-2011 term ending in June, with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy once again the dominant figure on the court, making the majority in 14 of the 16 cases that were decided by a 5-4 vote, according to veteran Supreme Court reporter Lyle Denniston.
Speaking at a July 6 Supreme Court Term in Review luncheon program at the National Constitution Center here, Denniston said a "continuing trend" of the court under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. is Kennedy's tie-breaking role in controversial cases. Denniston said Kennedy's instincts are "largely conservative," although he is liberal when it comes to gay rights.
"So this is a conservative court. There's no doubt about it," said Denniston, the National Constitution Center's advisor on constitutional literacy who has covered the court for more than 50 years, most recently for SCOTUSblog. "Neither of the four liberal justices . . . is a John Paul Stevens in terms of liberal ideology."
According to the program notes, Kennedy voted with the court's most conservative justices 10 times and sided with the more liberal members four times. In the court's previous term, Denniston said Kennedy cast the deciding vote in 12 or the 17 cases that ended in a 5-4 decision.
"As Harvard law professor Noah Feldman said, 'It's Justice Kennedy's country; we just live in it,'" Denniston said.
Denniston noted that of the court's four youngest members, two - Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. - are on the "far right" and two - Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan - are "on the left." In the 82 rulings this term, Roberts and Alito - both appointed by President George W. Bush - voted together 96 percent of the time, and Sotomayor and Kagan - both appointed by President Barack Obama - voted together 94 percent of the time, according to the program notes.
"We can anticipate . . . that those four will be the anchors of two ideological blocs" for years to come, Denniston said.
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