Today's Washington Post profiles Justice Anthony Kennedy, and his early emergence (as predicted) as the swing vote on the Supreme Court.
Most of the court's decisions are not ideological — there are more unanimous decisions than ones settled by a single vote. And not all of the 5 to 4 decisions pit the ideological conservatives — Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and O'Connor's replacement, Samuel A. Alito Jr. — against the more liberal justices — Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David H. Souter and John Paul Stevens — with Kennedy waiting to break the tie.
But many do. On the death penalty cases that have come before the court this year, for instance, the conservatives have consistently voted to uphold a state's imposition of capital punishment, while the liberals have sided with inmate complaints that their rights were violated. . . .
The 5 to 4 decisions totaled 11 in the 2005-06 term, with Kennedy in the majority in eight of them. There already have been that many this year, indicating a divided court and Kennedy's role as the deciding vote. His two dissents — involving sentencing rules in California and garbage-hauling in New York — came in cases in which ideological divides played no role.
UPDATE: Tom Goldstein has more on Justice Kennedy's emerging role on the Roberts court here.