Abortion, same-gender marriage, eminent domain and the separation of church and state are just some of the issues where the courts have been a major influence and the appointees of the next administration could make a huge impact.
The next president will tip the courts, one way or another.Something to think about when you're deciding whether or not to abstain from voting in the election.
Supreme Court openings are all but guaranteed, and that's just the start: 44 trial and appellate federal judicial vacancies already await filling. There will be more.
Consider this: President Bush has placed 316 judges on the bench during his two terms. One out of three federal judges now owes a lifetime-tenured job to the current president. Whoever replaces Bush will be likewise recasting courthouses, top to bottom.
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On Monday, timed to the opening of the Supreme Court's new term, the conservative Judicial Confirmation Network will begin running on ads Fox News Channel attacking Democratic nominee Barack Obama.
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Either candidate is bound to put his standards into practice. By next September, six of the nine Supreme Court justices will be at least 70 years old. Justice John Paul Stevens turns 89 in April.
"The Supreme Court is on the ballot this fall, and the stakes could not be higher for Americans," said People for the American Way President Kathryn Kolbert in a statement released Wednesday.
In some ways, the advocacy groups are out ahead of the public at large.