Fast Facts on “Liberal” vs. “Conservative” Judges on the Supreme Court

When talking about judicial philosophy, the terms “liberal” and “conservative” don’t refer to political viewpoints, which are supposed to be parked at the court door. (Source: NPR) Liberal and conservative judges think very differently about how broad the powers of the Court are. (Source: NPR)

“Conservative” Judges:

  • “Conservative” judges are often called constitutionalist, originalist, or textualist justices. (Source: NPR)
     
  • They believe that the Constitution clearly limits their role to making sure that the laws passed by the Legislative Branch are interpreted as written and consistent with the Constitution. (Source: NPR)
     
  • They believe it is up to the people and their elected representatives, not unelected judges, to change the Constitution and laws. (Source: NPR)
     
  • They believe judges should only look to the text, original meaning, and Court precedent to interpret the Constitution -- not foreign law or their own value judgments. (Sources: NPR, The Washington Post)
     
  • They believe the only right way to change the Constitution is through amendments and legislation. (Sources: NPR, The Washington Post)
     

“Liberal” Judges:

  • “Liberal” judges have a flexible judicial philosophy. It is also called revisionist. (Source: NPR)
     
  • Rather than having their power limited, as outlined in the Constitution, liberal judges think judges should have more power to change laws as they see fit. (Source: NPR)
     
  • They judges believe it is the role of the Court to strike down laws they think are unfair or rewrite laws passed by Congress to reflect what they think they should have passed. (Source: NPR)
     
  • According to The Washington Post, liberal judges believe we have a “living Constitution” that’s always changing and open to their revision. They look to other sources, including foreign law and their own value judgments, to rewrite the Constitution and statutes. (Sources: NPR, The Washington Post)


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