Supreme Court Term Brought Important Victories on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

Several Critical Single-Vote Margins Highlight Court’s Deep Divisions, Importance of Future Justices

At the blockbuster end of the Supreme Court’s 2002-2003 Term, several close decisions helped distinguish the term as a monumental one for civil rights and civil liberties. According to a new analysis by People For the American Way Foundation of the Court’s key decisions in these areas, several rulings demonstrated how the Court’s divisions could spell disaster for these and other individual rights and protections if another right-wing justice or two joins the Court’s ranks.

“This term saw several landmark decisions which augur well for the rights of all Americans,” said Ralph G. Neas, president of People For the American Way Foundation. “In upholding affirmative action admissions programs, rejecting efforts to limit the Family and Medical Leave Act, and protecting the rights of gay men and lesbians, the Court protected the interests of all Americans. But just one or two more votes along with Scalia and Thomas could have reversed all these rulings.”

Several decisions took dangerous steps toward limiting rights and protections. The Court upheld a federal effort to block Internet content in public libraries, dealing a blow to the notion of the library as an open place of free inquiry. Another decision limited the scope of the Americans with Disabilities Act. One case severely limited the rights of immigrants awaiting deportation.

“Many of the decisions this Term reflect the Court’s deep splintering along ideological lines. Because of this division, the next one or two justices could well tip the balance and lead to real disaster on civil rights, reproductive rights and privacy, free speech, environmental protections, public education and religious liberty,” said Neas.

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