Issue: "Year in Review 2003," Dec. 27, 2003

Monument moment

A federal judge ordered the removal of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore's Ten Commandments monument from public view on Aug. 27. Other federal courts issued contradictory rulings: Judges in Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, and Pennsylvania approved public Decalogue displays. And a federal appeals court upheld the use of a Ten Commandments symbol in a Georgia county seal. But the bitter legal wrangling in Alabama pitted Mr. Moore against the state's conservative attorney general, raising issues of judicial activism, civil disobedience, and the limits of federal authority. After the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Mr. Moore's appeal, a state judicial panel voted unanimously to turn him out of office.

Passing judgment

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Despite Democratic spin to the contrary, 2003 was not a good year for President Bush's judicial nominees. Although 68 nominees made it through the Senate gantlet this year, most of those were for lower-level district-court positions. At the all-important appellate-court level, Democrats were far less cooperative, filibustering six of the most conservative nominees. One of those, Miguel Estrada, withdrew his nomination in September after more than two years of Democratic stonewalling. Others vowed to fight on, though nothing short of a GOP Senate sweep in 2004 is likely to move their nominations forward.

Three years into his first term, Mr. Bush has won confirmation for 63 percent of his appeals-court nominees. President Clinton's confirmation rate at the same point in his tenure was 80 percent.


It was another see-saw year for the Supreme Court, with 5-4 rulings deciding the status of numerous constitutional questions. In its last big ruling of the year, the court on Dec. 10 upheld a controversial campaign-finance law that threatened to rewrite the role of American political parties. Another emotionally charged case involved affirmative action at public colleges and universities. The justices in that case refused to ban affirmative action, though they did set stricter limits on the use of race in admissions decisions.

Two other close rulings aided law enforcement and national security. Five justices voted to uphold California's tough "three strikes" rule, which mandates long prison sentences for third-time offenders. And the Bush administration notched a win in a case involving the jailing and deportation of aliens with prior criminal convictions.


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