CNN's senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, known for his writing on the U.S. Supreme Court, began his talk Thursday at Kansas University with a reminder that the high court is simply no "refuge" from politics.
Those robes may mean the justices all look the same, Toobin said, but "the partisan conflict that is so familiar to us in Congress or in the White House is reflected with great precision in the United States Supreme Court."
Toobin appeared in front of about 250 people in the Kansas Union, as part of the Humanities Lecture Series by the Hall Center for the Humanities. In addition to his work on CNN, he is a legal correspondent for the New Yorker and has written several books related the Supreme Court.
In his talk, Toobin described how the court and its politics evolved over the last several decades into one that known for its inner polarization.
He said that since the 1960s, during Earl Warren's tenure as chief justice, the court began a liberal streak that would last until the 1980s, when the Ronald Reagan administration had its chance to reverse the trend.
During the ensuing appointments, from Antonin Scalia in 1986 to Samuel Alito 20 years later, Toobin said, Republican politics evolved, something he called "the most important political development of our lifetime."
It was not just that these justices were more conservative than their predecessors, Toobin said. In the past, conservative justices were more likely to exercise "judicial restraint" and defer their decisions to the elected branches of government, Toobin said. Compare that to the current court, under the leadership of John Roberts, that "imposes a distinctive view of the Constitution in a very aggressive way."
Those views have resulted in striking down campaign finance laws and essential parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, among others, Toobin said.
Into the future, there's no forecasted end to the ideological battle over the court, Toobin said. Who is president at the time a justice chooses to retire determines which way the pendulum swings.
"If, to pick a random name out of a hat, Hilary Clinton [is president], we're going to have one kind of Supreme Court," Toobin said. "If Ted Cruz … we're going to have a different kind of Supreme Court."