The chief justice's influence is obvious in the way Kagan parries questions about whether she agrees with Republican-friendly decisions, such as the Roberts Court's rulings on the right to bear arms or a series of Rehnquist Court decisions expanding state's rights at the expense of the federal government.
Kagan's answer: The decisions are "settled law."
Where did that ingeniously evasive answer come from? Flash back to Roberts' confirmation hearings. Asked by Sen. Arlen Specter whether he considered Roe v. Wade "the settled law of the land," Roberts replied: "It’s settled as a precedent of the court, entitled to respect under principles of stare decisis."
What makes "settled" such a weasel word is that, unlike "irreversible," it allows for a future contrary decision. (A substance that settles at the bottom of a cup can be stirred up again.) For senators who would like to predict how justices will vote, it's, er, unsettling.
-- Michael McGoughCredit: AP Photo / Alex Brandon