Known for it’s staunch conservatism, the United States Supreme Court has been hinting at a new image in recent months and setting tongues wagging


Right-wing commentators have described recent US Supreme Court decisions, most notably the legalisation of same-sex marriage across all American states and the upholding of Obama Health Care, as marking a move from the political right to a more progressive position. According to these critics, this Supreme Court term has delivered far more liberal decisions than any other since 1969. The New York Times reports that in this legal term alone 54 per cent of the Court’s decisions have been perceived as ‘liberal’.

Many Republicans consider Chief Justice Roberts’ behaviour to be unprincipled, particularly in light of the promises made at Roberts’ confirmation hearing.

Has a move towards the left actually occurred, or has there been no move at all? Arguably, the Supreme Court has not in fact moved to the left very far, if at all. Many critics have commented that cases regarding money in politics and voting rights present a conservative outlook.

In so far as other decisions are to be regarded as liberal, the US Supreme Court made these decisions to satisfy public appetite in certain areas. As Lisa Linsky notes with reference to the same-sex marriage case: ‘this [decision] is not about a “conservative” or “liberal” court’ [1]. In recent years, public opinion concerning same-sex marriage has significantly transformed. We no longer live in a society where homophobia is tolerated. More than ever society advocates equal rights for minorities. Equality for same-sex couples has become an idea that is embedded in the composition of society which sees no reason why same sex-couples should not enjoy the same benefits as heterosexual couples. This is nothing to do with left-wing or right-wing politics, but with shifting attitudes against prejudice amongst the general population.

There no longer remains any justification for same-sex marriage not to be legalised across all American states. Indeed, one wonders why this decision has taken so long to achieve. Today, irrespective of political affiliation, it is difficult to see how same-sex marriage could be opposed. Therefore, although the legalisation of same-sex marriage is sometimes presented as a left-wing move, this is not in fact the case. The US Supreme Court is merely keeping up-to-date with the norms of contemporary society. For America to retain its position as the ‘superpower’ of the world, the Supreme Court has little choice but to approve progressive laws.

There is a similar explanation for the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Healthcare Act. It would have been problematic for the Court to have taken away subsidies for healthcare exchanges. This would have affected millions of Americans and left them without medical insurance. David Cruz rightly argues that the US Supreme Court was doing no more than acknowledging that ‘the economic realities of the health insurance market was part of their statutory interpretation, not some free-floating analysis of what would be good policy’. [2]

Therefore, although it may appear that the US Supreme Court has moved towards the left, these decisions do not indicate that conservative-minded judges have become intrinsically more left-wing. The US Supreme Court has not lost its conservative outlook on most matters. Only a few months ago, the Supreme Court ruled against three death row inmates who wanted to ban the use of an execution drug. It is wrong to suggest that the Supreme Court cannot have the freedom to reflect modern-day values without being deemed to have shifted in its political stance.





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