Justices to the right of center prevail in split court decision


WASHINGTON -- The dividing line in yesterday's Supreme Court ruling was straight down the middle -- the five justices to the right of center on the winning side, the four to the left losing.

The court's most conservative justices -- Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas -- anchored the majority, with the chief justice writing the main opinion that strongly supported states' rights against federal power. Justice Thomas wrote a separate opinion taking an even harder line on the constitutional dispute over Congress' authority.

Justices Anthony M. Kennedy and Sandra Day O'Connor, who often cast "swing" votes that move the court this way or that in closely divided disputes, are perhaps the most conservative of the center bloc. They wrote a separate opinion, suggesting that the court was not taking too broad a swipe at Congress.

In dissent were the court's last remaining liberal -- Justice John Paul Stevens -- and the three most liberal of the "centrist" justices, Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David H. Souter. Justices Breyer, Souter and Stevens wrote for the dissenters.

On other divided rulings, however, some of yesterday's four dissenters may well pick up the vote of either Justice Kennedy or Justice O'Connor, or both, and prevail.

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