The appointments of Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor caused liberals to wring their hands with worry. What if they weren't liberal enough? What was the President doing? Liberals, breathe a sigh of relief for now. They're kicking ass.
According to the LA Times, gone are the days when debate on the nation's highest court dominated by the aggressive conservatism of Antonin Scalia are over.
Gone are the mismatches where the Scalia wing overshadowed reserved and soft-spoken liberals like now-retired Justices David H. Souter and John Paul Stevens. Instead, the liberals often take the lead and press attorneys defending the states or corporations.
Justice Sotomayor has been described as similar in style to Scalia, the bombastic conservative with like 30 children. She peppers people with rapid-fire questions, often speaking over other justices, gesticulating wildly, and rubbing her head, showing the sort of fire that left-wingers have been craving from their government officials for a long time. Chief Justice Roberts has had to ask her to back off so that others can speak and other justices have given Sonia the side-eye.
Elena Kagan is more calm, calculating, and relaxed. She often builds her arguments as a series of agreements with points made by Justice Kennedy, who has often found himself the deciding factor in this Court's decisions. She's also attempted to befriend Justice Scalia outside of the courtroom, once going trap shooting with him.
The freshman women's outspoken positions has even taken some who have argued before the court aback.
That dynamic was on display this fall, when a court that leans conservative on cases of crime and punishment heard California's appeal in a case where a panel of three federal judges had ordered the release of about 40,000 prisoners. The state's lawyer stepped to the lectern with reason to expect a friendly reception.
The order is "extraordinary and unprecedented," Carter G. Phillips began, and "extraordinarily premature" because the state was not given enough time to solve its prison problems.
But Sotomayor soon cut him off.
"Slow down from the rhetoric," she said, launching into a withering discussion of the state's 20-year history of severe prison overcrowding and "the needless deaths" from poor medical care.
Kagan picked up the theme, contending that the state had spent years fighting with the judges but not solving the problem. It's too late now for "us to re-find the facts," Kagan said. The California judges had delved into the details for 20 years, and it was time now to decide whether the remedy was right, she said.
Sotomayor has voted with the court's liberals during her first term, and while Elena Kagan "has yet to cast a public vote in an important case where the court is divided," we should get a better sense of what she brings to the table this spring. In the meantime, hippie dippy left wingers like me can feel hopeful about the future of the Court and take pride in the fact these that two women are making themselves heard.