O'Connor, Kennedy Cast Pivotal Votes This Week

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- This week, Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony M. Kennedy, the moderate conservatives appointed by President Reagan, will say what they think about Miranda warnings, "partial-birth" abortions and public aid to parochial schools.

Their opinions almost surely will determine how the Supreme Court rules on these issues. The justices are expected to wrap up their term this week by handing down rulings in eight remaining cases.

If there has been one unchanging trend for the last decade, it is this: O'Connor and Kennedy will cast the deciding votes in major cases.

Their colleagues' leanings are more predictable. On the right, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist can count reliably on fellow conservative Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

Lining up on the left, usually in unison, are Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.

If O'Connor and Kennedy tilt right, as they do much of the time, Rehnquist can muster a conservative majority on issues ranging from the death penalty to affirmative action. They also have joined a series of rulings in favor of "states' rights" and limiting federal power. In May, for example, the court struck down the federal Violence Against Women Act on a 5-to-4 vote. The chief justice said Congress had exceeded its power by giving victims of sexual assaults a right to sue their attackers.

Similarly, in January, the same 5-4 majority decided the nation's 5 million state employees cannot sue their employers for age bias. The states have a "sovereign immunity" from such claims, O'Connor said.

But when the O'Connor-Kennedy pair tilts left, the court sounds strikingly liberal. …