The Issues: The Supreme Court

CBS News continues an election-year series titled "What Does It Mean To You?" focused on where the presidential candidates stand on major issues and how a vote for one or the other candidate might affect average people's lives.

In this report, CBS News Correspondent Mika Brzezinski looks at how President Bush and Sen. Kerry might act on appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On his three-wheeled scooter, with pooch Precious on board, Douglas Spector can maneuver just about anywhere.

But on a Caribbean cruise vacation, Spector found his handicapped-accessible room to be anything but accessible.

"I didn't know I was going to be a contestant on 'Fear Factor,'" says Spector.

"I paid extra for my room," he says. "There's a step into the cabin a big step into the bathroom. I found a lot of things that were inaccessible, not very wheelchair friendly."

So Spector sued. Now his case is scooting its way all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

And that's why he'll be watching this election closely: because the next president could appoint as many as four Supreme Court justices, setting the stage for decades on issues like abortion, gay marriage, civil rights and disability.

While neither candidate will address exactly what they'd like the court to decide on most of those issues, the second debate showcased the differences between them.

"I wouldn't pick a judge who said that the Pledge of Allegiance couldn't be said in a school because it had the words 'under God' in it," said President Bush. "I think that's an example of a judge allowing personal opinion to enter into the decision-making process as opposed to a strict interpretation of the Constitution."

Said Kerry: "The president said, 'What we need are some good conservative judges on the courts.' And he said also that his two favorite justices are Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas."

That's exactly what concerns Cheryl Mills, former deputy counsel to President Clinton.

"They are both individuals who are in the minority in opposing valuing diversity and higher education," says Mills.

She worries that if Justices Scalia and Thomas are the measure, a second Bush term could mean a court that will eventually outlaw abortion, overturn civil rights legislation and erode the right to privacy.

"I think this court has been on a path towards narrowing individual liberties," Mills says.

Conservative attorney Mark Smith believes that justices like Scalia and Thomas will strictly interpret the Constitution.

"They won't necessarily create, like, a new right to get married if you're a homosexual," says Smith.

He's concerned that Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry would appoint activist judges who could eventually legalize gay marriage and eliminate religion from the public arena.

"You will have less likelihood of successful challenges to, let's say, menorahs or nativity scenes in public parks as being viewed as unconstitutional," Smith says.

Douglas Spector hopes voters remember that whomever they choose for the next four years will make decisions determining the course of civil liberties and civil rights for the next 40 years.