The US Supreme Court has proved just why it is arguably the most influential court in the world. It has ruled on a series of cases that have far reaching consequences for American social policy, and for American public life. This started with conservative justices John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy siding with the liberals and upholding the constitutionality of Obama's Affordable Care Act. Then came the big one. Kennedy remained with the liberals and agreed that gay marriage was a constitutional right. Following on from the this, the court has accepted that abortion clinics in Texas should be allowed to remain open. Seldom have so many landmark decisions been handed down in such a short space of time. The decisions hint at a new era of decision making that puts aside partisan loyalty.
Yet make no mistake - the court is still largely an instrument for conservative policy. Not much has changed since the Bush V Gore decision that effectively handed the presidency to the Republicans in 2000. John Roberts, who became Chief JUstice in 2005, may have convinced some that he is serious when suggesting that politicians and the people, rather tha judges, should decide upon devisive ethical and moral issues (hence his dissent in the gay marriage case), yet he was more than happy to strike down key protections of the bipartisan and effective Voting Rights Act 1965, and allow unlimited corporate money to flow into elections by gutting well-received and popular restrictions on campaign finance. This is something that Dahlia Lithwick picks up on in her excellent Amicus podcast, along with Duke University law professor Walter Dellinger. Roberts' opting to preserve Obamacare serves as a smokescreen for the orginalists on the court to steer the country in the direction they want. Soon after the liberal decisions were announced on health and on gay equality, the court struck down Obama's attempts to limit carbon emissions by regulating power plants, and approved a drug to be used in lethal injections.
Every now and then, the four liberals on the court can win over the odd justice from the other team, but what is becoming increasingly clear is that they need help in the form of a Democratic president after 2016, along with a more finely balanced Senate to approve who they nominate to serve on America's top bench. For this reason alone, the next US presidential election is perhaps the most important in a generation.