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Press Bill Press is co-host of CNN's Crossfire. He is providing exclusive analysis to CNN allpolitics.com during the election season.

Bill Press: Supreme Court emerges as key campaign issue

June 29, 2000
Web posted at: 1:25 p.m. EDT (1725 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- No wonder this presidential campaign 2000 has so far seemed stuck in neutral: It lacked a defining issue. But now it’s got one: the Supreme Court.

This week’s monumental court decisions prove three things: what power the Supreme Court now exercises when faced with a do-nothing Congress; how narrowly divided the court is on major issues; and how important the issue of who fills vacancies on the Supreme Court will be in this year’s presidential election.

Remember when conservatives complained about judicial activism? What a laugh! When it comes to making public policy, this conservative Rehnquist court takes second place to none -- not even the liberal, Warren court.

Wednesday, the court ruled on four key issues: abortion rights, abortion protests, gay rights and aid to religious schools. In effect, Supreme Court justices exercised their constitutional authority to make their own laws where a politically constipated Congress could not, or dared not, act. And the results were far from predictable.

In its most surprising decision, the court acted by a bare majority, 5-4, to strike down as unconstitutional a Nebraska law banning late-term abortion. The court also, 6-3, upheld a Colorado law restricting the activities and location of protesters near family planning clinics. It was a double setback, from a conservative court, for conservative anti-abortion activists.

On gay rights, while acknowledging that the gay lifestyle is now widely accepted and respected, the court nonetheless, 5-4, confirmed the right of the Boy Scouts to ban gay scout leaders. And, by another 6-3 vote, the court poked a small hole in the wall of separation between church and state, ruling that the gift of federal funds to religious schools for the purchase of new computers does not violate the First Amendment.

Note how close the votes were on all four issues. Note also last week’s surprisingly close vote, also 5-4, to deny a stay of execution to Texas death row inmate Gary Graham. With a shift of just one or two votes, those decisions -- on abortion rights, gay rights, church and state and the death penalty -- could easily have gone the other way. They might, in a new court under a new administration.

This court is no bunch of spring chickens. Only Clarence Thomas is in his 50s (unfortunately). Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg are in their 60s. The remaining three senior jurists are certain to retire during the next eight years: Sandra Day O’Connor, 70; Chief Justice Rehnquist, 75; and John Paul Stevens, 80.

That means Al Gore or George W. Bush will get to name at least three, possibly four, new justices to the Supreme Court. They are the most important decisions either will make as president. And they will have a profound effect on public policy -- on gun control, the death penalty, separation of church and state, school vouchers, gay rights, first amendment rights and, especially, on choice. As President Clinton observed in his news conference of June 28, depending on who those new justices are: “abortion rights are very much in the balance.”

So, forget gas prices, Social Security, global trade or immigration. The only big issue in this campaign -- and the only big difference between Al Gore and George Bush -- is the kind of people they will appoint to the Supreme Court.

It’s the No. 1 reason why everyone who believes in a woman’s freedom of choice, and wants to preserve it, should vote for Al Gore.

It’s the No. 1 reason why everyone who wants to overturn Roe v. Wade should vote for George Bush.

It’s the No. 1 reason why nobody should waste a vote on Pat Buchanan or Ralph Nader.

 
ELECTION 2000

CALENDAR
See how quickly the primary and caucus season will take off with this calendar.


VIDEO
Watch selected policy speeches and campaign commercials from the major presidential candidates.


WHAT'S AT STAKE


HISTORY
If you have a Flash-capable browser, take a look at the history of key events during the primary season.


CANDIDATE BIOS
Quick takes on the White House hopefuls.


RACES
If you need to know who's up in 1999 or 2000 and what seats are open launch this quick guide.


THE STATES
Who are your elected officials? What is the past presidential vote and number of electoral votes in your state? Find out with these state political and election facts.


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WHO'S IN-WHO'S OUT
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Thursday, June 29, 2000


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