In addition to cases of public displays, the Court is likely to face cases involving religious speech in public schools and other governmental property. These raise similar legal issues as the cases about public displays.

What's At Stake: The issue of the Ten Commandments galvanizes religious conservatives. The Christian Coalition, on its website, called the Ten Commandments decisions "shameful and muddled," calling for Congress to "rein in liberal out-of-control Supreme Court after infamous 10 Commandments decisions."

Liberals generally cheered the Court's decisions, even though it didn't decisively draw up criteria for public displays. David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Coalition of Reform Judaism called the decisions "an essential affirmation of government neutrality toward religion."

Analysis: With the seemingly contradictory nature of this week's Supreme Court decisions, the issue is virtually assured of returning to the Court's docket soon. But despite O'Connor's leadership on this issue--and her liberal votes in these cases--her retirement is unlikely to make a major dent on the Court's decisions, Garnett said. That's because her philosophy on this issue was conservative and therefore her successor is likely to agree with it. "It's a sure thing that President Bush's nominee with agree with Justice O'Connor's opinion that private speech is protected and the government has to be neutral," he said.

Gay Rights & Gay Marriage

Overview: The same-sex marriage issue has played out mostly in state courts, legislatures, and ballot initiatives. The major Supreme Court case in recent years was Lawrence v Texas, which struck down state laws outlawing homosexual sex. In that, O'Connor sided with the 6-3 majority. Ditto for Romer v Evans, in which she joined the majority in striking down a Colorado constitutional amendment which precluded any governmental action protecting people based on sexual orientation. On the other hand, O'Connor was a swing vote in a case in which the Court allowed the Boy Scouts to bar gays.

What's At Stake: Gay marriage is another issue that has galvanized the right, even as some conservatives saw the Supreme Court as "liberal" on this issue because of the Lawrence case. Cizik criticized Lawrence for saying "the government may not outlaw sodomy based on moral or religious opinions or even protect the traditional family."

Supporters of gay rights have had an up-and-down few years. Lawrence was followed by the Massachusetts Supreme Court's decision--which cited Lawrence--instituting same-sex marriage. But voters approved gay-marriage bans in all 11 states where it was on the ballot last November, and Bush has said he supports a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman only.

Analysis: The Court is unlikely to see a case anytime soon directly involving the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. But there are related issues it will probably face soon. These include questions regarding the U.S. status of married gay couples from nations like Spain, where it is legal, and whether states must recognize same-sex marriage contracts from other states, Lynn said.

Other Issues

The Court is also likely to face cases in the coming years involving Bush's faith-based initiatives; Oregon's assisted suicide law; federal laws that may conflict with religious organizations' values or interfere with their policies; and the teaching of creationism, evolution, and intelligent design in public schools. It's no wonder, then, that religious organizations on the left and right are gearing up for battle.

"For President Bush, social conservatives, and the senators they helped elect, the moment of truth has arrived," Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention said in a statement. It's one sentiment liberals and conservatives would agree on.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus