In most of the cases it decides, the Supreme Court is what it presents itself as: a court of law. The jus­tices apply pre­ex­isting rules and stan­dards set forth, for example, in the Con­sti­tu­tion and statutes passed by Con­gress, to a dizzying array of human and insti­tu­tional behaviors.

But in many highly con­tested cases, espe­cially those involving the def­i­n­i­tion of broad-​​based rights, the Supreme Court is only slightly more a court of law than the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives or the Senate. Here the jus­tices are often covertly and ashamedly quasi-​​legislative, actu­ally deciding what sort of a society they wish to call into being, des­ig­nating win­ners and losers on the basis what they want or hope will be best.

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