Clearly emerging as the United States Supreme Court winds down its 1987-88 term this week is the new conservative majority among the justices. The votes of Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy - who joined the court mid-term - are just starting to emerge. And the California conservative is providing a razor-thin 5 to 4 majority in a number of key cases in the criminal justice and civil rights areas.
Important further tests of the court's ideology will come today and Wednesday. The justices are scheduled to hand down rulings on the independent counsel-special prosecutor law, the juvenile death penalty, and religious groups using public money to counsel youth on morality.
On Friday, the court split 5 to 4 in refusing to expand protections of criminal defendants under the landmark 22-year-old Miranda ruling.
The justices rejected an Illinois plaintiff's claim that the state has a post-indictment responsibility to inform a defendant of his right to legal assistance when such information was already provided at the time of arrest.
Associate Justice Byron White wrote that ``whatever warnings suffice for Miranda's purposes will also be sufficient in the context of post-indictment questioning.''
Justice White was joined in his majority ruling by Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Associate Justices Kennedy, Sandra Day O'Connor, and Antonin Scalia.
Dissenting were the court's moderate-to-liberal bloc, including Associate Justices Harry Blackmun, William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall, and John Paul Stevens.
The votes lined up the same way in a North Dakota case in which the court ruled that states do not have to provide free bus transportation for poor schoolchildren.
Justice O'Connor, writing for the majority, held that the US Constitution does not mandate any bus transportation, much less service at no cost.
Justice Marshall held that this deprived poor rural youngsters who lived far from their schools of their ``equal educational opportunity'' rights.
In another case, Justice Blackmun joined the conservative majority in a 6-to-3 ruling that limits the power of federal judges to dismiss criminal charges when prosecutors violate a law requiring speedy trials for defendants.