A Shift In The Scales Of Justice?

As the Supreme Court's new term starts its new term, many eyes are focused not on decisions in the next term, but who will be making them over the next four years, reports CBS News Correspondent Rita Braver.

The justices will be taking up cases on hot topics:

  • Like drugs, deciding whether hospitals can test expectant mothers for drug use and report results to the police, or whether police can put up roadblocks to check drivers for drugs with no suspicion of wrong doing.
  • They'll consider who's covered under the law aimed at protecting disabled Americans.
  • And they'll look at environmental law – determining how much power the federal government has to regulate clean air and water.

    But the big talk this election year is not about what the court may be doing, but about what the presidential candidates might do to the court if, as predicted, there are one or more vacancies.

    The big issue is of course abortion, with George W. Bush indicating he prefers justices who oppose abortion rights, and Al Gore all but promising nominees who favor them.

    But abortion is just one issue. Ralph Neas, of the liberal group People For The American Way, claims Bush appointees could undo years of social progress:

    Neas says: "There would be more than one hundred Supreme Court precedents that would be overturned, affecting the environment, gun control, and campaign finance reform.

    Conservative Robert Bork, himself defeated the for the Supreme Court in 1987, says Gore appointments would be dangerous for the country.

    Bork says: "I think the justices appointed by Gore will be hard liberal. They will represent the core of the Democratic party: racial preferences, normalization of homosexuality, religion pushed aside."

    Still, presidents shouldn't count their court vacancies before they're hatched.

    Supreme Court watcher Tom Goldstein says, "I think even those that we sort of think of as old say, 'I don't have anything that I'd rather do than this, and you'll pry my cold dead hands off the bench if you want to get rid of me.'"

    President Jimmy Carter, after all, went four years without a nomination.