The Election of 1968: Partisanship Destabilized
The Supreme Court was embroiled in the election of 1936 because it thwarted change. In contrast, the Court was enveloped in the election of 1968 because it fostered change. A new type of judicial activism gained ascendancy during the 1950s and 1960s that embodied the programmatic liberalism that was reshaping the Democratic party. In its legislative form in the mid-1960s, called the “Great Society,” the new liberalism declared war on racial discrimination, and broadened and strengthened in nearly revolutionary fashion economic and social programs inherited from the New Deal. In its judicial form the new liberalism went to previously unsurpassed heights in defense of constitutional rights. Liberal policy objectives were now deemed not merely constitutionally permissible but constitutionally required. Particularly in combination with its embrace by the Supreme Court, this metamorphosis contributed to three profound changes in the political system: the dethroning of the reigning Democratic coalition; the onset of an era of party dealignment; and a struggle for control of the Supreme Court.
The second, third, and fourth party systems ended abruptly. The fifth party system—defined as the unprecedented thirty-six years of nearly unbroken Democratic control of the national government following the election of 1932—had a different fate. First, Democrats in 1968 were not suddenly turned out of office in droves, as Republicans had been in the 1930s, and consigned to minority status for a generation. The years since 1968 have been a Republican era only in a limited sense. More often than not, Republicans have won the White House, and Democrats have controlled Con