Campaigns and the Court: The U.S. Supreme Court in Presidential Elections

By Donald Crier Stephenson Jr. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
The Elections of 1980 and 1984: Whose Constitution?

During the 1970s the Burger Court not only refrained from discarding, but also enthusiastically embraced, much of its predecessor’s accomplishments. Would the Court again find itself snarled in partisan controversy? When the justices joined the abortion debate, the answer to that question became clear. Arguably, no single judicial decision since Dred Scott1 in 1857 electrified the political system to a greater extent than Roe v. Wade2 Acting precisely as the two major parties were undergoing profound changes, the Court ignited the most extensive debate since the 1930s on the judiciary’s role in democratic government.


A DIFFERENT PARTY SYSTEM

If widespread agreement prevails on the demarcations and nomenclature of previous party systems, the years since 1968 elude similar consensus. The reason is plain: no realignment in the traditional sense has occurred. Republicans have not sent Democrats into hiding; Democrats have not regained their dominance.

Transformation of the Southern states into a two-party region leaning Republican is noteworthy, of course, as have been the five Republican victories in presidential elections from 1968 through 1996. Nonetheless, Democrats won the White House with Southern governors at the top of the ticket: Jimmy Carter of Georgia in 1976 and Bill Clinton of Arkansas in 1992 and 1996. Carter carried all states of the old Confederacy, save Virginia, in a close race with President Gerald Ford. In more convincing electoral vote3 triumphs, Clinton claimed four Southern states in 1992 and 1996.4

Moreover, and pivotal for the Supreme Court, during the thirty years

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