, the Supreme Court’s role is modest on some fronts, yes—I agree that deciding that child rapists can’t be executed is not of the same order as upholding the death penalty in the first place. Or that outlawing one method of late-term abortion isn’t up there with
. But in other areas, the court looks bigger to me, and the disagreements worthy.
is my best recent example: Whether the Guantanamo detainees have the right to go to federal court matters enormously to them, and quite a lot to America’s legal tradition and world image, I think.
is harder to tell, since it’s like an opening bid that invites more challenges to gun restrictions, but it’s not every day that a new constitutional right appears in our midst. And the knocking back of the punitive damages award against Exxon seems significant to me, for its own sake and because of the signal Justice Souter’s opinion sends about potential limits to state punitive-damages laws. I often wonder if to write about the court is inevitably to hype its importance, and I like your impulse to knock it (and many of us) down a peg. But I’m glad the justices see more than small beans to fight over—Justice Scalia’s rhetoric, as usual, being the best evidence of passion stirred.