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Visualizing the Ideological History of SCOTUS 151

Posted by timothy
from the you're-just-objectifying-them dept.
langelgjm writes "An interesting exercise in quantifying and visualizing ideological shifts, the website ScotusScores.com tracks changes in the ideological history of the US Supreme Court from 1937 to 2007. Ideological positions are quantified using Martin-Quinn scores, and the chart highlights the often-bumpy transitions (Thurgood Marshall to Clarence Thomas), as well as tendencies within each Justice's career."
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Visualizing the Ideological History of SCOTUS

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  • by realnrh (1298639) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @11:29PM (#28385031) Journal
    Souter's leaving, Ginsburg is likely to leave in the next two or three years (to ensure that Obama gets to choose her replacement), Stevens is likely to do the same... and all of them are considered likely at this point to be replaced by more distinctly progressive justices, since for the first time in decades there's a Democratic President with a Democratic Senate that can actually confirm his choices easily. None of the hard-right justices (Scalia, Alito, Thomas, or Roberts) is going to be stepping down voluntarily any time soon, but Kennedy might be getting some inclinations that way based on not being fond of being the constant swing vote, subject to pressures from all of his colleagues all the time.
    • by fyrie (604735)

      Define "Progressive"

      Is it going to be Geddy Lee?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Lord Kano (13027)

        It's a matter of trying to shape reality. If they're "Progressive" they must be in favor of progress. If someone opposed progress, they must be bad.

        Not all change is progress.

        LK

        • by Jurily (900488)

          Everybody's so busy wanting to be down with the gang. "I'm conservative", "I'm liberal", "I'm conservative". Bullshit! Be a fucking person! Lis-ten! Let it swirl around your head. Then form your opinion. No normal, decent person is one thing, okay? I've got some shit I'm conservative about, I've got some shit I'm liberal about. Crime, I'm conservative. Prostitution, I'm liberal!

          -- Chris Rock

      • by PylonHead (61401)

        I hear he wrote the dissenting opinion in Maples v. Oaks.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by AuMatar (183847)

      Ginsburg, unless forced to resign by illness, will wait until after the 2010 midterms. All signs point to the democrats getting a greater than 60 seat majority (likely 62, with the possibility of as much as 64), making it so Republicans would need democrats to vote against stopping a filibuster. Which isn't going to happen.

      • I always get a kick out of people who think that SCOTUS justices go through that much effort to time their replacement.

        Many, though not all, Justices have little interest in the particular politics of the week, and have more concern for whether or not their replacement will bring a decorum, sensibility and intelligence to the court which befits the seat which they are giving up.

        I doubt Ginsburg will conciously wait until the Dems have a supermajority for the purpose of stuffing something down the republicans throats. And I also seriously doubt the dems (or the Repubs) getting a supermajority period for the foreseeable future.

        Voters in this country have pretty much spoken: you have one term to make a difference, or they'll find someone else who will.

        I don't think that has to do with party lines as much as frustration, and honestly I view THAT as a good thing.
        • It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

          I agree with you that the judges are more focused on their own lives than their replacement by a long shot.

          I disagree on the trend. The republicans really screwed up badly. They sided very visibly with about 10% of the population over the other 90% and then drove the country into the ditch. While productivity has skyrocketed, employee pay hasn't- but executive pay has.

          I voted for reagan and bush sr. I'll probably never vote republican again until they sta

      • All signs point? What the fuck have you been smoking. That amount of backlash from the shit Obama's been doing, or not doing in the case of Iran, is beginning to swell. This is less than 6 months since he took the helm.
        • by AuMatar (183847)

          His approval rating is steady at over 60%. Even Fox News polling has him around 60. The republican party's approval rating is at under 30, and hit a record low this month. Since he took office the percentage of people who thought the US is on the right track has grown from under 40% to over 50%. I suggest you look at some actual poll numbers- there is no backlash, he's actually getting more popular not less.

    • by tverbeek (457094) on Friday June 19, 2009 @09:26AM (#28388795) Homepage
      I don't know Kennedy,* but unless he's an unusual lawyer, he probably loves being the swing vote. In effect it's like having the STAR chamber** for the prosecution, the weak-lefties for the defense, and he gets to listen to their arguments and decide the case. Or in cases where he already has a firm viewpoint on the subject, he can use his position in the middle to frame the terms of the decision. If he doesn't find that appealing, he should retire, because he's gotten tired of the Law.

      *Insert Bentsen/Quayle joke here.
      **Scalia, Thomas, Alito, Roberts
  • by iluvcapra (782887) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @11:42PM (#28385073)

    Tufte might grouse though about all the small fonts and the overloading of the vertical axis...

    Some things jump right out at me...

    • You can see the often-reported phenomenon of justices generally getting more liberal the longer they stay on the court. Conervative justices in particular tend to trend mellower and mellower over time.
    • You can see how some justices, like Frankfurter, will trend contra the overall trend of the court. As the court got bluer into the 50s, he got redder.
    • How is it that SEVEN of the nine justices who voted in favor of Brown were conservative? There's no way that case would get a unanimous decision today, and conservatives today are much more moderate on social issues than they were in the 50s. This is probably an artifact of the single-dimension grading process than anything else. Alot of Progressive Democrats through WW2 and into the 50s were happy to call themselves racist, and many Republicans still marginally considered themslves enlightened party-of-Lincoln non-racists. There was a big realignment of constiuencies around '68, and this tends to skew the definitional "liberal"/"conservative" meanings.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 19, 2009 @12:37AM (#28385323)

      You can see the often-reported phenomenon of justices generally getting more liberal

      No, you can't. Taking the last score for a judge minus the first score for the same judge, 18 judges became bluer by at least 0.05 and 15 became redder by at least 0.05 (six judges changed by less than 0.05 first to last).

      • by iluvcapra (782887)
        Well, I didn't say what proportion of them got more liberal :)
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        but note how the average of all justices over all time is 0.05. doesn't that just make you all warm and fuzzy inside about how balanced and stable our judicial politics are? no? you don't mean to say that numbers can lie, do you? or that people can set their numbers up to make the current political spectrum look normal?

    • by jmorris42 (1458) * <jmorris&beau,org> on Friday June 19, 2009 @03:00AM (#28386227)

      > Alot of Progressive Democrats through WW2 and into the 50s were happy to call themselves racist,
      > and many Republicans still marginally considered themslves enlightened party-of-Lincoln
      > non-racists. There was a big realignment of constiuencies around '68, and this tends to skew
      > the definitional "liberal"/"conservative" meanings.

      Not exactly. whne public opinon on racism turned against it the Progressives in the media, academy and the arts did a fast pivot and suddenly racism was a conservative/republican thing. The official histories were rewritten and now Republicans have ALWAYS been racists and Democrats have ALWAYS been the enlightened folk. But it ain't so.

      To hear modern 'historians' tell it Lincoln was a Democrat, the labels have just swapped somehow.

      Nope. Go look at old history. The Solid South was all Democrat until the late 1970's. Seriously, most Southern states didn't elect their first Republican Governor or Senator until then. All those bigots you see in the grainy newsreels turning water hoses and dogs on people, yup every last one of them was a Democrat.

      Democrats hated Lincoln (the first Republican POTUS) even more than that hate Bush (the most recent Republican POTUS). So from Lincoln to Bush the Republicans have a pretty good record on the race issue. Debate all you want about other aspects of the Bush record but the diversity of his administration is not really debatable. Meanwhile Bill Clinton was hailed as the 'first black president' at the time but had a pretty darned monochome group of people around him.

      And at this point the doubters will bring up Nixon and his "Southern Strategy." No. Total myth. Nixon was many bad things, stupid wasn't one of them. Go hit wikipedia and examine the election returns. Note the third candidate. Ok, remember that southern bigots HATED Republicans. Hated with a white hot hate that would never die. (the idiots dying off was the way it ended as things turned out) So you are a Southern Yellow Dog Democrat and you have McGovern, Nixon and Wallace to pick from. Oh yea, you are going to pick Nixon. Riight. We are to believe Nixon thought he could out bigot George Wallace without alienating the northern Republicans.

      Note that there is ONE Kleagle of the Klan seated in the US Congress. He is not a Republican.

      This should be enough to put the "Republicans are racists" myth is put in question. (It can't be 'debunked' in a slashdot post, all I can hope for is to plant some seeds of doubt. It is up to YOU to follow up and learn the Truth for yourself.) Now lets examine the other side a bit more.

      As noted above, the south was almost enturely Southern Democrats. But the racism of the Democratic Party was by no means a Southern thang. It permeates the entire 'Progressive' project. Go read Jonah Goldberg's _Liberal Fascism_ to get a full exploration of the connection between today's Democratic Party, the old Progressive movement, the Communists AND the Fascists and Nazis. Yes, including the noxious ideas on race.

      In this space lets let one example serve to get the curious asking questions about the accuracy of the history they have been taught. Take Hillary Clinton's 'hero' Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood. Go dig into this central figure of the Progressive movement a bit. Lets just say it isn't an accident most of their efforts were (and still are) concentrated in the areas with large 'ethnic' populations. Crazy bitch was quite open (as most of the early Progressives were) about her notions regarding culling out the fast breeding but inferior breeds.

      • by iluvcapra (782887) on Friday June 19, 2009 @03:53AM (#28386581)

        I'm not sure what you're trying to prove, but your account of "modern historians" seems to come out of thin air; no historian within the realm of citation has ever claimed Lincoln was a Democrat, or that the labels got "swapped" somehow. The Republican party isn't essentially racist; US political parties don't essentially stand for anything. The racist block of poor southern whites simply just stopped voting Dem and stated voting Republican after the LBJ signed the Voting Rights Act. Southerners had been wary of the Democratic coalition ever since FDR, but he was able to keep them in the tent by buying them off with federal allocations on projects like the TVA and rural electrificatio. The dead hand of this is still with us: the federal government still over-allocates to states that were critical to the dixiecrat electoral block.

        The assertion that the southern strategy [wikipedia.org] was a myth is prima facie ridiculous-- there's decades of documentation and scholarship, and most of the originators, including Phillips, Moynihan and Buchanan acknowledge that it exists and played a critical role in forming the post-Voting Rights Act Republican coalition. They stripped the Democratic party of dixiecrats by becoming a party of states' rights, opposing federal writ when it came to affirmative action and busing.

        Goldberg's thesis is ahistorical. He tries to draw progressivism and liberalism together with socialism and fascism, but he reduces partisan alignment to philosophy. People vote for socialists without believing in socialism, because the fact is that most parties who declare themselves socialist, or fascist, or liberal simply aren't. Socialists, which were called "Social Democrats" in Germany were hell-bent against National-Socialists in Germany; and both detested the Communists. Progressives in the US had a strong historical relationship to the church, and while areligious progressives in the 30s favored eugenics policies religious ones absolutely did not. And all of this is separate from Sanger, unless you consider birth control tantamount to eugenics, which a lot of people honestly disagree with. The "liberal fascism" argument is born out of the belief that people identify with political parties because they share a common set of beliefs, and that beliefs fall on a continuum. They don't. People don't vote Socialist because they want a Socialist form of government, and the more socialist it gets, the happier they are. People vote Socialist (or Communist, Fascist, Liberal, whatever) because that party promises X, Y, and Z, and the voter decides which party's platform best conicides with their self-interest. Goldberg sees the world through a lens of ideological purity, where parties are evaluated in terms of their consistency to some dogma, as opposed to their ability to deliver on promises to their interest groups, which is actually how people decide what parties to join.

        • by Improv (2467)

          There are some of us who vote socialist because we really do want a socialist government.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        All those bigots you see in the grainy newsreels turning water hoses and dogs on people, yup every last one of them was a Democrat.

        It's just not hip to be a bigot any more, of any kind. Sorry.

        Take Hillary Clinton's 'hero' Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood. Go dig into this central figure of the Progressive movement a bit. Lets just say it isn't an accident most of their efforts were (and still are) concentrated in the areas with large 'ethnic' populations. Crazy bitch was quite open (as most of the early Progressives were) about her notions regarding culling out the fast breeding but inferior breeds.

        They are faster-breeeding, because of their inferior social position, which was created by racism (and in some cases slavery) and which is maintained by social welfare programs designed to keep you on the dole and voting democrat forever. On the other hand, the repubs seem to just want to create an outright meltdown in that portion of society. It IS the rational place to focus your efforts.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by 0xdeadbeef (28836)

        The official histories were rewritten and now Republicans have ALWAYS been racists and Democrats have ALWAYS been the enlightened folk. But it ain't so.

        <img src="wharrgarbl.jpg">

    • Good analysis.

      It is fascinating that Roe vs. Wade occurred at a time when the median was at one of its more conservative moments (as measured by this index).

      Plus, if you look at the bottom, the court has been moderate to conservative through the entire duration of this graph. I'm not sure I actually buy into this metric.

      • This is why I tell people that the leaning of a particular justice even within the same session will not necessarily tell you how that justice will see the matter at hand. Look at Gonzales v. Raich, where Rehnquist and Thomas -- two of the three most conservative leaning justices at the time -- voted in favor of allowing California's legalization of medical marijuana laws to trump federal law, while Kennedy and Scalia voted to let federal law win out.

        You can make a general guess, but until the opinion is p

        • by rangek (16645)

          This is why I tell people that the leaning of a particular justice even within the same session will not necessarily tell you how that justice will see the matter at hand. Look at Gonzales v. Raich, where Rehnquist and Thomas -- two of the three most conservative leaning justices at the time -- voted in favor of allowing California's legalization of medical marijuana laws to trump federal law, while Kennedy and Scalia voted to let federal law win out. You can make a general guess, but until the opinion i

    • by Improv (2467)

      Political allegiance might take a back seat to good legal arguments.

  • by reporter (666905) on Friday June 19, 2009 @12:34AM (#28385307) Homepage
    The Supreme Court of the USA (SCOTUS) should not be driven by ideology. The role of the judge is simply to apply the law impartially. Note that if SCOTUS had applied the law impartially in the early half of the 20th century, SCOTUS would have ruled that laws enforcing segregation are illegal.

    Consider the case of the firefighters in New Haven [latimes.com]. If the SCOTUS decides this case on the sole basis of the legal statutes (that government shall not hire or promote on the basis of skin color), then the results of the exam will be upheld. All the white firefighters and the 1 Hispanic firefighter should be promoted. If the SCOTUS decides this case on the basis of ideology (i. e., the idea that racial quotas are in the best interest of the USA regardless of the law), then the results of the exam will be rescinded, denying promotion to the firefighters.

    These days, the SCOTUS is expected to be ideological. So, political parties, lobbyists, and any other political critter will try his hardest to support a candidate (for justice of SCOTUS) who (1) is willing to make a decision on the basis of ideology and (2) exhibits the ideology that the political critter supports.

    • Unfortunately it is impossible for any person to apply the law to a particular case impartially. Judges are human beings who take their own prejudices and worldviews into the court, it is not simply left at the door. For example, Assoc. Justice Scalia appears to have chosen "originalism" as his approach to interpreting the U.S. Constitution. This approach elevates the plain meaning of the text, as understood by the framers, as the main criterion for judicial review. Thus, when the constitution is silent on a matter, such as the right to privacy, the existence of this right is left to the legislature and not appropriate for the judiciary to decide. However, Scalia's view is but one interpretation of the constitution, among many competing views. Expecting judges to not decide opinions on the basis of their ideological preferences is idealistic and naive.

      • He has been inventing stuff too. He went with liberals in stretching the Commerce Clause to absurdity in Gonzales v. Raich.

      • The correct interpretation of the Constitution is that it is a treaty among the states to cede some limited power to the federal government. You don't want to go randomly inventing new terms or "living" it out because that changes the terms of the deal that binds the states together. Think of the Constitution as a TOS for the US Federal Gov't. Every time a court changes it, its a TOS change without your consent.

        And it should not need to.

        The Constitution does not give people rights, as the left is fond of saying, it is that the government only has limited powers and the states and people have all the rest. Thus, even if there was no 2nd amendment, the federal government would STILL be not allowed to regulate firearms. But of course, people just trample the constitution and on both sides of the aisle. The EPA, DOE, and many other left wing laws are clearly unconstitutional, but so too are things like the defense of marriage act..

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Lord Kano (13027)

          ...are clearly unconstitutional, but so too are things like the defense of marriage act..

          On what grounds do you make this claim?

          LK

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by tjstork (137384)

            On what grounds do you make this claim?

            The Constitution does not grant the Congress an explicitly enumerated power to regulate marriage.

            • by jmorris42 (1458) * <jmorris&beau,org> on Friday June 19, 2009 @05:33AM (#28387043)

              > The Constitution does not grant the Congress an explicitly enumerated power to regulate marriage.

              No it doesn't. But it is still one of the more interesting questions the court will eventually have to settle. Both sides can make a strong originalist case. Observe:

              The DOMA isn't about marriage per se, it is about clarifying the Full Faith and Credit clause in the Constitution. The word marriage has a specific meaning. Some states have suddenly decided (mostly by judicial fiat, but we now have some states which did it correctly) the word has a different meaning. If State A redefines a word that redefinition is not required to be accepted by State B. So just because two men are "Married" in Vermont does not mean West Virginia has to accept that their marriage laws have been redefined in ways that make a mockery of the purpose of those laws as understood in West Virginia.

              The other side just has to mention that it wasn't too many years back that "Marriage" didn't include mixed race couples in quite a few states and the courts ruled that such a marriage was valid in every state. Right there you are most of the way to winning the argument. And Nevada was notorious for it's divorce laws. And marriages involving girls so young it would be statutory rape in most states wasn't illegal so long as you kept that marriage license handy. And finally, had not Utah not been required to renounce bigamy before admission to the Union their marriages would have almost certainly been legal nationwide.

              So both sides can make a case, which way to rule? Most cases I can get on my soapbox and declare a winner. Can't on this one.

              • The word marriage has a specific meaning. Some states have suddenly decided (mostly by judicial fiat, but we now have some states which did it correctly) the word has a different meaning.

                [...]

                The other side just has to mention that it wasn't too many years back that "Marriage" didn't include mixed race couples in quite a few states and the courts ruled that such a marriage was valid in every state.

                [...]

                So both sides can make a case, which way to rule? Most cases I can get on my soapbox and declare a

                • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                  by PylonHead (61401)


                  So, how does the comparison with mixed-race marriage work? The bans on mixed-race marriage were bans on particular pairings, but they weren't about the definition of marriage. All the example you gave were similar--various marriages & divorces being allowed, but not the definition of marriage changing.

                  They're both just bans on particular pairings. The relationship remains the same.

                  You might say that you can't simply abstract away the gender of the participants. The people concerned with race said the

                  • You might say that you can't simply abstract away the gender of the participants. The people concerned with race said the same thing.

                    You're claiming that the supporters of bans on interracial marriage couldn't say, "We don't want to allow those people to get married"? You're claiming that this sentence wouldn't even compute for them?

                    • by PylonHead (61401)

                      No, I'm saying that the anti-miscegenation crowd couldn't see past the races of the people getting married. To them, that was the overriding issue.

                      Today, most of us wouldn't register it as an issue at all.

                      With respect to marriage, I'm more concerned with issues like:

                      "Do these two people love each other?"

                      "Are they good for each other?"

                      "Are they ready to dedicate the rest of their lives to each other?"

                  • by tjstork (137384)

                    They're both just bans on particular pairings. The relationship remains the same. You might say that you can't simply abstract away the gender of the participants. The people concerned with race said the same thing.

                    If there's any analogy to garriage and race, it would be more like a Ku Klux Klan guy showing up for a year at Reverend Wrights church. Regardless of how sincere that guy professed himself to be, you'd know there's a punchline at the end of his whole show. Garriage is just a big joke, and I don

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by SirGarlon (845873)

          The EPA, DOE, and many other left wing laws are clearly unconstitutional

          Not as clearly as you might think. There is this thing called the "elastic clause" in Article II Section 8 which says,

          [The Congress shall have power ...] To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes; ... To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the U

        • by mcgrew (92797)

          The EPA, DOE, and many other left wing laws are clearly unconstitutional

          Funny how such "left wing" legislation like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water act were signed by President Nixon, a Republican.

      • by jmorris42 (1458) * <jmorris&beau,org> on Friday June 19, 2009 @04:25AM (#28386697)

        What we get is erratic judging because bad precedent piles on previous bad precedent. But it is just post modern twaddle to assert that impartial judging is impossible. There are some pretty clear guideposts to judge the quality of a court's judging by.

        what should good judging look like? Here are some rules of thumb.

        1. What we want is the Rule of Law and not the Rule of Men. This means we need a dead Constitution, not a living one. The Constitution has to mean what it meant when it was written. Yes it CAN change, but only by the Amendment process, not judges deciding 'society has changed' or 'evolving standards'.

        2. The best measure of whether you have the Rule of Law is whether people know what the rules are in advance. The Founders tried to make that possible by building in lots of sane defaults. Then they added the Bill of Rights to add more clarity with lots of "Congress shall pass no law..." and "shall not be infringed" short of language to clearly define limits to the powers of the Federal Government and topped off with the 9th and 10th Amendments to attempt to put the government in a small clearly defined area. Basically, unless it is clearly specified that something IS something the Federal Government controls the default answer is NO, the government can't do it.

        It really shouldn't take much thought to figure out how the Supremes SHOULD rule on most questions. The problem is even the most strict originalists lack both the numbers and the courage to break with precedent and clean out most of the Federal government and thus have to weasel their way to slowly try to push the law in originalist directions without wholesale renunciation of precedent.

        3. How would a court full of Vulcans or correctly operating expert systems rule? Working correctly the court would be bored to death because everyone on the lower courts would know how the Supreme Court would rule, and even most of the litigants would know, thus few cases would ever be appealed to them. But because with our current broken system neither side has a frickin clue how any given court, including the SCOTUS, will rule we get endless court action. Heck, by the time your case works its way up the makeup of the SCOTUS will probably change.

        Some examples might make these ideas more understandable:

        Roe v Wade: The Constitution is silent on abortion thus the 10th reserves it as an issue for the States. The Feds can neither outlaw abortion nationwide or forbid the States from outlawing it. Citizenship is defined as 'born or naturalized' so the pro-life argument that a fetus is a baby may or may not have merit, but that a fetus isn't a Citizen is black letter law as the Constitution is currently written.

        McCain/Feingold: What part of Congress shall make no law... is beyond the comprehension of the Honorable Senators? Note that the entirety of the Campaign Finance regulatory regime fails this test along with most of the FEC regulatory machinery.

        • (quote) McCain/Feingold: What part of Congress shall make no law... is beyond the comprehension of the Honorable Senators? Note that the entirety of the Campaign Finance regulatory regime fails this test along with most of the FEC regulatory machinery. (/quote)

          The same part that lets them ban child porn. (No, I am not in favor of child porn, I'm just using the 'Child porn is the root password to the Constitution' logic.)

          "No law" doesn't mean "No law", it means That the Constitutional Principles the law

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by JeanPaulBob (585149)

          Roe v Wade: The Constitution is silent on abortion thus the 10th reserves it as an issue for the States. The Feds can neither outlaw abortion nationwide or forbid the States from outlawing it. Citizenship is defined as 'born or naturalized' so the pro-life argument that a fetus is a baby may or may not have merit, but that a fetus isn't a Citizen is black letter law as the Constitution is currently written.

          So it's only homicide if the one who dies is a citizen?

          • by jmorris42 (1458) *

            > So it's only homicide if the one who dies is a citizen?

            Basically yes. With some obvious legal constructs to cover non-citizens legally visiting and such. Any Free form of government is in essence a contract between its members governing what they can do to/with each other and what the State may and may not do. The fundamental unit is the Citizen. If you are a Citizen the Law covers you, if a fetus isn't a Citizen it isn't protected.

            Ultimately the abortion argument is going to come down to answering

        • by jbengt (874751)

          The Constitution has to mean what it meant when it was written. Yes it CAN change, but only by the Amendment process, not judges deciding 'society has changed' or 'evolving standards'.

          The problem with that stance is that the Constitution was written by humans in English. No language can be completely free from contradictions and ambiguities, and the Constitution is no exception.
          The Ninth Amendment ("The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.") is probably the the best example of such uncertainty creating the need for SCOTUS to "make policy" in particular cases.
          (not that I entirely disagree with you

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by nomadic (141991)
      I think you're missing the big picture. The Constitution is in some ways an ambiguous document and each of the justices has a different idea of how it should be interpreted. This is an "ideology," but it's one that you need to have if you're a judge, otherwise you can't make any sort of ruling.
    • by MrMista_B (891430)

      You don't want SCOTUS to be run by humans?

      What, then? Remove the people and leave it up to machines?

      Human beings, by virture of being /alive/, with experience of life and personalities are by their very nature inevitably Ideological, in everything they do.

      It cannot be seperated from anything.

      • Actually, as soon as we can make an all-knowing, benevolent machine, then yeah I'd be down with throwing the justices out of the SCOTUS and plugging in Deep Thought. Of course, we'd have to be all knowing ourselves to know if the machine really knew everything.
        Well, shit.
        • by Dog-Cow (21281)

          Who defines benevolent? In most instances, a court case is deciding between two parties. Benevolence is relative.

      • by realnrh (1298639)
        "In the news today, the Windows Supreme Court threw out claims against Microsoft for monopolistic practices yet again, despite that the case before the All-Knowing System was in regards to water rights between Colorado and California..."
    • by iluvcapra (782887) on Friday June 19, 2009 @12:55AM (#28385437)

      If the SCOTUS decides this case on the sole basis of the legal statutes (that government shall not hire or promote on the basis of skin color), then the results of the exam will be upheld.

      I don't see how you can just state that ad arguendo. If a court finds in favor of New Haven, they are strictly applying federal law. Federal law might be quota-ist, but it's the law. Is the court supposed to write its own laws, or apply it's own reading of the constitution when the Congress has specifically stated that it interprets the Constitution differently? Conservatives only want "impartial rulings" and "strict construction" when it takes destroys people's civil rights and substantive due process, and when a court actually finds impartially for those things, they demand activism. Both sides play this game. Just find good judges and let them do their job-- throw them out if they're corrupt, but otherwise if they can convince 4 of their peers, give them the benefit of the doubt.

      • by AuMatar (183847) on Friday June 19, 2009 @01:38AM (#28385727)

        The definition of "activist judge"- any judge who rules against the way I want.

        • by iluvcapra (782887)
          It's important to point out that the popular equivalents, the runaway jury and nullifying jury, are quite legal and sometimes even celebrated in our legal system, even though both act within the legal system with bad faith.
          • I'm not sure that people who genuinely support true judicial activism--changing the law rather than ruling on the law--would appreciate comparing it with the power of the People to ignore unjust law in juries.
        • by selven (1556643)

          Activist = someone fighting for a cause I like

          Activist judge = a judge fighting for a cause I don't like

          It's straight out of 1984.

        • The definition of "activist judge"- any judge who rules against the way I want.

          Keep in mind, though--just because people apply the label to anything they don't like, doesn't mean the label doesn't have a real definition describing a significant point of judicial philosophy.

    • by hardburn (141468)

      The protection against bias is already built into the system. It's why there are nine Supreme Court Justices instead of one, and why they are appointed positions for as long as they care to have the job (barring gross misconduct). As others have mentioned, this will be true and necessary for as long as humans are appointed to this position.

    • by Alsee (515537)

      A judge who rules the way I like is applying the law objectively and impartially.

      A judge who makes rulings I dislike is an activist making ideology-based decisions.

      -

    • Then why have humans in the Supreme Court at all? Why not just have computers do the work?

      We have Judges because the law is often ambiguous and imperfect, and someone needs to interpret the law. There are different ways to interpret the law, and no human will be perfectly impartial, and all judgments will at least partially reflect the judges ideology.

      I remember Chief Justice Roberts gave a speech on impartiality when he was nominated, and yet I'm pretty sure most of his decisions come from one side of the

    • by tverbeek (457094)
      The SCOTUS hasn't just become ideological "these days". Way back in the early 1800s when it started to assert itself as a coequal branch of government, the two parties fought over it, with Congress even impeaching one of the justices. It was overtly political in FDR's day, as evidenced by his attempt to pack it with a bunch of additional liberal justices. Furthermore, there's been an ongoing evolution of the Court interpreting the Constitution, beginning with the point in which the John Jay Court interpr
    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      I absolutely agree with you about the application of law impartially. Unfortunately, that's far from reality.

      For instance, if you read lot of the flak that Justice David Souter has gotten, especially from the conservative side, it is precisely his tendency to call things based on law and precedent rather than ideology that got them riled up. A lot of folks who have particular political opinions (most notably surrounding abortion, but there are plenty of other issues) want ideological justices because they s

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Cajun Hell (725246)

      The Supreme Court of the USA (SCOTUS) should not be driven by ideology. The role of the judge is simply to apply the law impartially.

      You will understand "progressives" a lot better, once you realize that the above statement is ideology.

      Seriously, there are people who disagree with that statement. What's amazing is that they are the majority. Most people in the US now, think that the law is incomplete and implies things rather than says things.

      Look at any SCOTUS case, let's say (here's a good recent o

      • by realnrh (1298639)
        Psst! Your bias is showing! Progressives look at 'due process' and say "That includes fair access to the evidence, regardless of what the defendant thinks the evidence is good for" and then says "Therefore, since the Constitution says everyone should get their due process and this is part of due process, the prisoner should have a right to access the evidence for whatever purpose their defense might require." Just because you disagree with someone's conclusions does not mean they are not starting from the C
    • by realnrh (1298639)
      Actually, the case is more complicated than that. New Haven explicitly was throwing out the test results because under current law, results that display a distinct difference in outcome based on race are automatically assumed to have an invalid racial element to them. If they had not thrown out the test results, they would have been open to a lawsuit alleging that the test itself was racially biased, and under current law New Haven would have had a very hard time winning that case. The white firefighters ne
    • by mcgrew (92797)

      The role of the judge is simply to apply the law impartially.

      Too bad they don't, or Lessig would have won and we would no longer have insane copyright lengths. Lessig takes responsibility for that, he mentions in his book that he takes responsibility for the loss and considers it the biggest failure of his life.

  • by Shag (3737) on Friday June 19, 2009 @12:39AM (#28385337) Homepage

    70 years of history is a good start, but the court is 220 years old this year, so I hope they'll be expanding their timeline. It'd be interesting to see how the court in our lifetimes compares to the previous 150 years.

    • by iluvcapra (782887) on Friday June 19, 2009 @01:09AM (#28385535)

      I think that's sortof a doomed project, because "liberal" and "conservative" are very overloaded and our defintions don't apply to previous eras properly. Most "centrists" in the 1850s would have held a meliorist but tolerant attitude toward slavery, and most fundie Christians, up until the cold war, were populist and redistributionist. Read a William Jennings Bryan or Father Coughlin speech and see how strange their ideology is compared to how we draw the lines today; on the other hand there were people like Robert LaFolette and Neslon Rockefeller, who were rock-ribbed Republicans and conservative in a way, but completely unrecognizable to the current consensus.

      A more usefuls scoring might be evaluating how federalist vs. centralist decisions are, or how strongly do the judges define a "taking." Over the arc of US History, many aspects of our discourse have become remarkably small-l liberal, like our attitude toward racism and slavery, while other aspects have trended more small-c conservative, like our attitude toward taxation and civic religion.

  • by target (97212) on Friday June 19, 2009 @01:04AM (#28385499) Homepage

    One of the things that immediately struck me was that the conservative judges seemed to be more conservative than the liberal judges were liberal, based on the vividness of the color. Aha, I thought, I knew the liberals were more moderate!

    But actually I think that's an artifact of the way the coloring was done. Look at Rehnquist as an associate and see the vivid red that his first year shows as, which is 3.98. Now look at Thurgood Marshall, below him, and find a -3.95. Those should look pretty similar in terms of intensity, but the blue looks much closer to white than the red does.

    What I think is happening is this. They are color coding not on absolutes like that, but based on the distance between 0 and the most conservative or liberal number. But the most liberal justice is at -6, which the most conservative one is only at -5. So if you get a 4, that's 80% of the way to being the most conservative, but someone who is equivalently liberal at -4 is only 66% of the way to being the most liberal. So they get a color that looks like they are 66 points away from moderate as opposed to 80 points for the conservatives.

    Well that's misleading. I think the color gradation changes need to be symmetrical across the graph or it's going to be super confusing. Maybe just call -5 the most liberal you can be and don't worry about shading Douglas more? Or make 6 the most conservative you can be and give up the super deep red color for now.

    • Well that's misleading

      The chart's not meant to be honest. The point is that its a bunch of liberals in a liberal university making their political point that the right is more radical than the left when the reverse is arguably true.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by RobVB (1566105)
        I love the American right-wing conservative way of dealing with people they disagree with: call them a bunch of liberals and walk away feeling good about themselves.

        On a side note, here in Flanders, the Liberal party is considered one of the center-right parties.
      • by Reziac (43301) *

        I reached a related conclusion, that the chart has an agenda, when I couldn't find info on what its creators thought were "liberal" or "conservative" judgments.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by nomadic (141991)
      I don't see that at all. So I tested it.

      Loading the graphic in GIMP, setting a grid, and using the color picker tool, I measured color saturation from both axes:

      Starting with the first grid box of the blue axis (all the way to the left), and measuring the color saturation every 5 grid boxes, I got the following values: 98, 73, 43, 17.

      Doing the same with red, I got the following values: 100, 73, 41, 16.

      The difference seems negligible to me, especially considering some of the reds have less satura
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Perhaps it has to do with the way we perceive the colors red and blue. However, when I looked at the chart, John Roberts in the 2007 spot at 1.44 looks like a darker red than the blue of David Souter right below him at -1.48. That may be perception, but it is what I see.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by phlinn (819946)
      It's worse than you think. In some cases, negative numbers are still colored red on the court average line.
  • There's nothing like a simple diagram made completely unreadable by needless flashiness. Fancy graphics shouldn't be more important than the subject matter at hand. Too many web page and game designers just don't get this.

    Even so, marquee text became practically obsolete on the web in about 1997. Why would one ever dream of implementing the marquee chart?
  • by rm999 (775449) on Friday June 19, 2009 @03:04AM (#28386253)

    At first, I was amazed at how smoothly justices change over time, which makes the plot look very pretty. Then, I clicked on the link for the Martin-Quinn score, and saw this in the description: "The measures are estimated using a dynamic item response theory model, allowing judicial ideology to trend smoothly through time." I haven't looked into the math (all I can find after a quick search on their page is some custom C code), but the smoothing looks pretty severe, i.e. over several years.

    There are on the order of 75-150 cases heard a year (it has been decreasing from 150 since the 80s) in the court - these are enough data points that they could bin the plot over a few months and show it without smoothing. My guess is this looks far less pretty.

  • Useless (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Friday June 19, 2009 @08:10AM (#28387929) Homepage

    This is completely useless. Some guys named Martin and Quinn estimate positions on a political spectrum using "Martin Quinn scores", which are not explained (the link to the explanation explains nothing.)

    So, what, they guess the justices' politics and then graph their guesses?

    If they don't explain how they calculated the numbers, this data is useless, or possibly worse than useless, being opinion masquerading as fact.

  • Political "science" is no more science than creation "science" is science. This article belongs under politics.

  • Is it me or does the shade of red seem much deeper at -4.0 verses the shade of blue for +4.0?

  • This provides pretty good support for the claim that liberals think of themselves as being moderate and everyone else as being conservative. Fairly predictable for collusion between a couple of liberal hotspots.

It is not every question that deserves an answer. -- Publilius Syrus

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