by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The Supreme Court’s liberal minority forged winning alliances in unexpected rulings throughout the 2018-2019 term, suggesting the newly entrenched conservative majority is hardly a cohesive unit.
Each of the conservative justices crossed over to form a 5-4 majority with the liberal bloc at least once. A total of 10 decisions featured a five-justice majority with four liberals and one conservative. By contrast, the conservative justices joined together to form a five-member majority in seven cases.
That data point should not be overstated. The court’s personnel are more substantively conservative than they have been in decades, and the five Republican appointees delivered real victories for the right in the past term. But the complex questions posed in many Supreme Court cases, in tandem with the interesting and meaningful differences among the conservative justices, make the right-leaning majority neither predictable nor monolithic.
“These ‘crossover’ decisions may not be products of some overarching ideology, but just how they saw the best understanding of the law in some tough and non-obvious cast,” said professor Eugene Kontorovich of George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia School of Law. “The votes of justices, especially Republican-nominated ones, are not simply a function of some partisan ideology. They actually look at the cases.”