By Erwin Chemerinsky, founding dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law and a preeminent scholar on constitutional law.
Since Richard Nixon ran for President in 1968, conservatives have sought to change constitutional law in a conservative direction. To a large extent, in virtually every area of constitutional law, they have succeeded. The focus of my new book, The Conservative Assault on the Constitution, is to describe what has happened and how conservative presidents and justices have lessened constitutional protections and moved constitutional law significantly to the right.
Between 1968 and 2009, Democratic Presidents appointed only two justices to the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, while Republican Presidents appointed a dozen justices. Many Republican-appointed justices - like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas - are as conservative as any who have served on the Supreme Court. John Roberts and Samuel Alito have been everything that conservatives could have hoped for and liberals could have feared.
That, of course, leaves Anthony Kennedy as the swing justice on the Court. But Kennedy, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan, is much more likely to side with the conservatives than with the liberals. Last year, there were 12 5-4 decisions split along ideological lines, with Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito on one side, and Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor on the other. Justice Kennedy sided with the conservatives in nine of these dozen cases and with the liberals in three. The year before, there were 16 ideologically divided 5-4 cases and Justice Kennedy sided with the conservatives in 11 of 16.
The success of these justices in remaking constitutional law in a conservative direction must be understood as part of a larger conservative agenda. Because the Supreme Court decides cases one at a time, because not every case has come to a conservative result, and because Roe v. Wade has not been overruled, it is easy to underestimate the dramatic successes that conservatives have had.
The focus of my book is to show what has happened across many areas of constitutional law. I examine six areas. Chapter 1 focuses on how a series of Supreme Court decisions in the 1970s, 1990s, and the last decade have led to schools that are increasingly racially separate and unequal.