US High Court Takes a More Conservative Turn With Bush Appointees


This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

Legal experts had a lot to discuss this week. President Bush intervened to keep a former top administration official out of prison. And last week the Supreme Court ended its first full term with two Bush appointees.

Most experts agree that the appointments have created a more conservative high court. Just how much may remain to be seen. But some already think the changes may be remembered as the president's biggest success for the conservative movement.

John Roberts arrived on the court as chief justice after William Rehnquist died in two thousand five. Justice Samuel Alito joined the court at the beginning of last year. He replaced Sandra Day O'Connor who retired.

In the most recent term, which began in October, the four most conservative justices won twice as many cases as they lost. One-third of all cases were decided by votes of five-to-four. Commentators noted it was the highest share in ten years, though not all split liberal and conservative.

The deciding vote was often Justice Anthony Kennedy. He was in the majority in every five-four decision. Over the years he has voted with conservatives as well as liberals on the court.

In this term, Justice Kennedy sided with the liberals in their most important case. The court ruled that the government has the power to restrict the release of greenhouse gases. But he took the side of the conservatives in their most important decisions.

These included upholding a federal ban on a late-term abortion method. Another decision limited the free speech rights of public school students. And last week the court limited the ability of school systems to consider race in efforts to balance student populations.

On the last day of the term, the Supreme Court agreed to hear appeals by detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The court had denied an earlier request in April. The detainees seek the right to appeal their detainment in federal court.

The administration says they are enemy combatants and should not be given such rights. The Supreme Court will hear the arguments after its next term begins in October.

This week Americans debated another legal issue after President Bush commuted the prison sentence of Lewis "Scooter" Libby. He was the top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney and a presidential assistant.

A jury found he lied in the investigation into who leaked the identity of a Central Intelligence Agency officer married to an Iraq war critic.

The president said a thirty-month term was severe. He said he has not decided about using his constitutional right to also give a pardon. Monday's action came hours after a court refused to delay the prison sentence while Lewis Libby appealed his conviction.

He has already paid a fine of two hundred fifty thousand dollars as part of his sentence. The judge also ordered probation. Now the judge asks how someone could serve two years of supervised release without first going to prison.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I'm Steve Ember.