Bush Legacy: The Supreme Court

Ironically, the opposition of conservative groups to Miers also was driven by the Souter nomination. To conservatives, Miers was an unproven and untested nominee, just like Souter. How could anyone know she wouldn't drift to the left once Bush left town? And how could she hold up to the liberal intellectual heavyweights on the court like Stephen Breyer?

Alito was waiting in the wings as Miers' nomination fell apart, and with a Republican majority in the Senate, Bush did not have to compromise.

With the nominations of Roberts and Alito, Bush fulfilled his early vow to appoint justices like Thomas and Scalia. His appointees are different, just as Thomas and Scalia are different. So far, for example, both have indicated they are more deferential to precedent and more cautious in their approaches.

 And while the Court is now firmly conservative, it is not forcefully so. It now has four solid judicial conservatives and four solid liberals. Kennedy has become the new swing vote. He is much more conservative than O'Connor was, especially on issues pertaining to abortion and race, but he will sometimes cross sides on other issues.

Any conservative victories -- whether a decision striking down gun bans as violating the 2nd amendment or one upholding limits on specific abortion procedures -- came because Kennedy fell in line.

In the first full term of the new Roberts court in 2006, Kennedy was nearly always in lockstep with the right, and the court appeared headed on a clear conservative path. But the following year, the court had a constellation of cases that saw Kennedy cast some key votes with liberals, leading to liberal victories on presidential power and the environment.

That's not to understate Bush's appointments. It is unlikely Roberts or Alito will drift to the left, and with both men in their 50s, Bush and his team of lawyers will be shaping the direction of American law and culture for a generation.

But the lasting snapshot of the Roberts court has yet to be taken. Barack Obama likely will get at least one appointment -- John Paul Stevens, a reliable liberal, is 88. Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter also are rumored to be looking for an exit.

Those three, however, are all liberal and, presumably, they would be replaced with like-minded jurists. Obama would not change the court's direction from the one Bush set unless one of the conservatives now on the bench left for ill health or other unimaginable reasons.

The recent history of the court, however, is marked with surprises. No one expected O'Connor to step down, which gave Bush a chance to change the Court in more significant ways than any other president in half a century. If Obama wins a second term and a conservative bows out, he could turn the court back to where it was -- or more liberal than it was -- before Bush began.

Jan Crawford Greenburg is ABC's legal correspondent and author of "Supreme Conflict: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court."

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