Magazine article Newsweek

The Snippy Supremes: High Stakes: The Justices Risk Seeming as Divided as the Rest of Us

Magazine article Newsweek

The Snippy Supremes: High Stakes: The Justices Risk Seeming as Divided as the Rest of Us

Article excerpt

Things are getting ugly at the U.S. Supreme Court. In the weeks since the election, the justices have tried to conceal their internal differences about how to resolve the political brawl in Florida--speaking, at least publicly, with one voice. But last week those barely hidden divisions became all too visible. In its extraordinary Saturday ruling that ordered Florida to halt manual recounts, the court split 5-4, along conservative-liberal lines. As the justices prepared to hear arguments scheduled for Monday morning--warp speed for the court--the majority seemed to indicate that it was preparing to put an end to the recounts once and for all.

That may be good news for George W. Bush, but it would be terrible for the court. The justices, whose moral authority as a calm council of wise elders has survived many ideological battles, are now apparently as divided as the rest of us, and risk appearing to become just another bunch of partisan players in the political wars. If the justices cannot find a way to bridge their differences and speak with authority after Monday's arguments, they could do incalculable damage to the public confidence that is so vital to the court's role as the ultimate guardian of the rule of law.

The nine justices managed to hang together earlier this month, when they unanimously but subtly slapped the liberal Florida State Supreme Court for changing the rules after the election by extending the deadline for manual recounts. They ordered the Florida justices to rethink their ruling--with a closer eye on federal law and the U.S. Constitution.

That unanimity didn't last long. In most cases, the justices deliver stay orders without any comment at all. But on Saturday, the court split into two warring camps, each side publicly sniping at the other. In a sharp dissent, the court's four more-liberal justices--John Paul Stevens, David H. …

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