The Myth of the “Conservative Supreme Court”

Supreme-Court-Gallery-500x250Is the current U.S. Supreme Court conservative? No, it is not. And certainly not if you define “conservative” as interpreting the Constitution according to the understanding of the makers.

The claim that the Court has a conservative majority is certainly widespread. Googling the phrase “conservative supreme court” turned up over 38 million hits. The more specific phrase, “conservative majority supreme court” yielded 3.75 million. TheNew York Times has even editorialized that “the aggressiveness of the majority’s conservatism” actually renders the court “radical.”

A careful reading of a study by the Times itself shows the latter claim to be pure bunk. Although the headline affixed to the study suggested that it found the Court to be conservative, that headline was somewhat misleading. The study’s findings were much less definitive. It did conclude that (1) “the recent shift to the right is modest,” (2) “the court’s decisions have hardly been uniformly conservative,” and (3) by contemporary public standards the court is centrist, not conservative.

Careful analysis of the Times study by Professor Jonathan Adler turned up more. Professor Adler demonstrated that the study actually found that the current justices are restrained, not necessarily conservative. They form, in point of fact, the most restrained bench in decades. That means they don’t change the law much one way or another.