Perhaps the most important role of a conservative judiciary is securing the courts against judicial activism by liberal judges aiming to reinvent the Constitution. Conservative judges not only need to practice judicial restraint, they must also take steps to overturn unconstitutional decisions. Nowhere is this concept more important than on the US Supreme Court, where judicial interpretation sets the ultimate legal precedent. Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia, William Rehnquist, Clarence Thomas, Byron White and Samuel Alito have all had a major impact on the interpretation of US law.
From his appointment by President Ronald Reagan in 1986 until his death in 2005, Supreme Court Justice William Hubbs Rehnquist
served as Chief Justice of the United States and became a conservative icon. Rehnquist's term on the High Court began in 1972, when he was appointed by Richard M. Nixon. He wasted no time in distinguishing himself as a conservative, offering one of only two dissenting opinions in the controversial 1973 abortion-rights case, Roe v. Wade
. Rehnquist was a strong supporter of state's rights, as outlined in the Constitution, and took the concept of judicial restraint seriously, consistently siding with conservatives on the issues of religious expression, free speech and the expansion of federal powers.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Arguably the most conservative Justice in recent US Supreme Court history, Clarence Thomas
is well-known for his conservative/libertarian leanings. He strongly supports state's rights and takes a strict constructivist approach to interpreting the US Constitution. He has consistently taken political conservative positions in decisions dealing with executive power, free speech, the death penalty and affirmative action. Thomas is unafraid of voicing his dissent with the majority, even when it is politically unpopular.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
When President George W. Bush first nominated Supreme Court Justice John Glover Roberts, Jr.
to the bench, it was only as an Associate Justice. When Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist died not long after his nomination, however, Bush withdrew Roberts' nomination and re-nominated him to be Chief Justice. Bush's actions weren't by accident. Roberts had consistently proved himself to be a conservative both politically and judiciously. Since his confirmation in October, 2005, Roberts has run the Court in much the same way Rehnquist did.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
While the confrontational style of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Gregory "Nino" Scalia
is widely regarded as one of his less appealing qualities, it underscores his clear sense of right and wrong. Motivated by a strong moral compass, Scalia opposes judicial activism in all its forms, favoring instead judicial restraint and a constructivist approach to the interpretation of the Constitution. Scalia has stated on numerous occasions that the power of the Supreme Court is only as effective as the laws created by Congress.
5. Former Associate Justice Byron "Whizzer" White
As one of only two Justices to cast a dissenting opinion in the landmark 1972 abortion-rights ruling Roe v. Wade, many conservatives believe Associate Supreme Court Justice Byron Raymond "Whizzer" White would have secured his place in conservative history had it been his only decision. White nevertheless practiced judicial restraint throughout his career on the High Court and was nothing if not consistent in his support of state's rights. Although he was appointed by president John F. Kennedy, Democrats saw White as a disappointment, and White himself said he was most comfortable serving under conservative Chief Justice William Rehnquist and most uncomfortable in the very liberal Court of Chief Justice Earl Warren.