The Supreme Court's Conservative Moment
The United States Supreme Court sits atop the hierarchy of the American legal system as the most authoritative institution in the federal government's judicial branch. Unlike Congress and the office of the president, which are composed of a myriad of agencies and committees and multiple layers of decision makers, the Supreme Court consists of only nine individual human beings. Because of its small size and the close interaction of the justices within its decision-making process, the Supreme Court is structured to provide opportunities for individual justices to influence the development of constitutional law and public policy significantly. Sometimes individual justices are influential because they cast decisive votes that determine case outcomes when the Court is closely divided over controversial issues. In 1991, for example, Justice David Souter had a significant influence over case outcomes during his first term on the high court because he cast the decisive fifth vote in eleven important cases in which the other justices were evenly split, four to four. 1 Alternatively, individual justices can be especially influential because of the force of their intellect and personality or because they are especially persuasive in communicating with their colleagues in the Court's decision-making process.