Chief Justice Roulette
Handicapping the Supreme Court shuffle.
Finally, Rehnquist is simply not acting like a man facing his last term on the bench. If we knew nothing else about the chief, we'd know that his sensitivity to both history and appearances is so acute as to border on the pathological. This is a man who has carefully built and nurtured a national trademark known as "The Rehnquist Court." His own distinctive stamp now informs the court's federalism jurisprudence, its religion, and civil rights doctrines. He has been fierce in imposing his own agenda on the court and the country. Yet Rehnquist currently presides over the dullest, lightest term in recent memory. As Charles Lane observed earlier this month in the Washington Post, the court was "setting new records for selectivity" when it came to agreeing to hear cases this term.
Rehnquist has a lot more he wants done on the court. And it doesn't look like it's going to get done this term.
It's been argued that the Supremes have been ducking the really hard cases because of the ideological and political fallout from Bush v. Gore. Maybe that's still true. But I'm a betting woman and I'll give you 4-1 odds on this: Rehnquist is not a man to go out with a whimper. He won't let the curtain go down on him after the Lamest Term in History. That's just not the Rehnquist way.
Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate.
Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty.