- It is called the Supreme Court, but this year in key cases the
institution might just as well be called the supreme realm of
Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Such is the power of the centrist swing voter among eight other
justices who often split 4 to 4 on the most contentious disputes in
the nation. After nearly two decades on the high court, Justice
Kennedy has never been more important and powerful, and - in the
view of some - dangerous.
Liberals fear him. Conservatives distrust him. But all eyes will
be on Kennedy as the court opens its 2007-08 term Monday with a
string of major cases on the horizon that appear headed for 4-to-4
Among them is a dispute over gun rights in Washington, D.C., a
battle over the legal rights of terror suspects at the Guantanamo
detention center, and a challenge to the president's power to order
state judges to uphold international court rulings.
In addition, the high court will examine whether execution by
lethal injection in Kentucky is a form of cruel and unusual
punishment, and whether the Constitution forbids Indiana from
requiring voters to produce photo identification prior to casting a
The same internal dynamics among the justices that produced a
string of conservative victories on abortion, affirmative action,
and campaign finance last term will again be on full display. But
this term, Kennedy's positions on pending cases are less clear.
Some analysts say the highest-profile cases this year are likely
to bring a broader mix of both liberal and conservative victories.
But several of the cases appear too close to call, court watchers
One of the most anticipated cases involves a landmark legal
dispute over the meaning of the Second Amendment right to keep and
bear arms. The justices are being asked to decide whether this is an
individual right that belongs to the people or a collective right
bestowed by the states through organized militias.
The court has not yet agreed to take up the issue, but many
constitutional scholars believe it soon will. If so, it would mark
the first time since 1939 that the Supreme Court has examined the
meaning of the Second Amendment.
Two related cases, District of Columbia v. Heller (07-290) and
Parker v. District of Columbia (07-335), involve challenges to gun-
control laws in the nation's capital. The disputes will take the
justices back to the drafting of the Bill of Rights and the
foundations of the republic, analysts say.
"This is 1791 for the Second Amendment," Georgetown Law Center
Prof. Nicholas Rosenkranz told a recent conference at the Cato
Institute in Washington.
Among cases already on the court's docket, one of the most
important involves terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay and to what
extent they are entitled to challenge their open-ended detention as
Lawyers for the detainees filed habeas corpus petitions asking
federal judges in Washington to examine the legality of their
clients' continued confinement. The Bush administration says that
because the detainees are foreign enemy combatants being held
outside the United States, they are not entitled to the protections
of habeas corpus. In 2006 Congress, then controlled by Republicans,
passed a law that stripped federal judges of jurisdiction to hear
cases brought on behalf of detainees at Guantanamo. …