Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Rehnquist Court's Limits

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Rehnquist Court's Limits

Article excerpt

A year ago, the conventional wisdom had it that the Reagan Revolution had arrived at the U.S. Supreme Court. The court seemed ready to abandon all racial preferences and lower the wall between church and state. But this year makes that conclusion appear more conventional than wise.

In the two headline decisions of the 1995-96 term, the less conservative wing of the court won big. The court voted 7-1 to knock down the males-only admissions policy of the Virginia Military Institute, while notching up the constitutional protection against sex discrimination. And the court threw out a Colorado amendment that barred local and state laws protecting homosexuals against discrimination.

The court also strongly defended the freedom of speech - voiding a feder al ban on indecent cable shows, expanding protection of commercial speech, throwing out campaign finance restrictions and widening the speech rights of government contractors.

This isn't to say that the court has been hijacked by liberals. It threw out election districts designed to help minorities. It cut back on requirements for prison law libraries. It upheld curbs on appeals from death row. It backtracked on protections against the abuse of drug forfeiture laws. And it continued to trim the rights of criminal suspects, a two-decade trend that makes a constitutional amendment to protect victims' rights ironically ill-timed.

Yet, at the dawn of the Rehnquist era a decade ago, it had seemed possible that the court would do more - that it would read abortion rights out of the Constitution, pull down much of the wall between church and state and eliminate racial preferences. It hasn't and now it looks as if it won't.

Three reasons are Justices David H. Souter, Anthony M. Kennedy and Sandra Day O'Connor - the justices who surprised just about everyone with their 1992 opinion reaffirming the right to an abortion. …

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