AFTER the 5-to-4 decision last week in which the Supreme Court reversed course on abortion, upholding the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, many court watchers were wondering what to expect next.For it's entire history the church in Rome has been less about the teachings of Christ and spirituality than about political control - a virtual extension of the Roman Empire. Tyrannical Kings maintained their power and feudal lords maintained their wealth with the blessings of the church.
For guidance, law professors and Supreme Court specialists looked to lists of 5-to-4 cases in which Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who retired last year, had been the swing vote. One list, compiled by Martin S. Lederman at Georgetown University, had 31 entries, with cases on religion and race, elections and crime, medicine and free speech.
Last week’s abortion decision, Gonzales v. Carhart, demonstrated the court’s new math. With the justice who took the O’Connor seat, Samuel A. Alito, in the majority, and the new swing justice, Anthony M. Kennedy, writing the decision, the court upheld, by a single vote, the abortion act.
Just seven years ago, Justice O’Connor voted with the court’s liberals to strike down a similar Nebraska law banning the procedure, known medically as intact dilation and extraction. It involves removing an intact fetus rather than dismembering the fetus in the uterus. The decision recast the court’s approach to abortion, shifting its emphasis toward fetal life and away from deference to medical judgments about women’s health.
The decision last week brought into focus the greatest hopes of conservatives and the worst fears of liberals. Is the court about to make sweeping changes in important areas of constitutional law, including in decisions expected shortly on the role of money in political campaigns and of race in the schools?
The decisions of the New Court on issues of campaign finance and religion will be just as disturbing as decisions on abortion. The secular democracy of the United States is threatened now that the Vatican controls the US Supreme Court.