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Legal scholars predict the outcome on key issues if a U.S. Supreme Court justice steps down in the next four years

Slowly but surely, the Supreme Court is creeping into the presidential election debate, with accessories included.

The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights is offering palm cards for voters telling them how important this election will be to the future of the Court.

“If public schools in your community decide to adopt an integrated educational program, it may be considered unconstitutional. That’s the power of the Supreme Court,” the card warns.

On the other side of the spectrum the conservative Judicial Confirmation Network is promoting campaign buttons with photos of Bush Supreme Court picks John Roberts Jr. and Samuel Alito Jr. with a choice of captions: “The Kind of Change I Believe In,” or “Thanks W!”

Slogans and warnings aside, however, it is not easy to predict exactly what change the election will bring to Supreme Court doctrine.

Liberals sound the alarm that a President John McCain would change the Court’s jurisprudence the most by naming conservatives to fill the seats of the liberal-to-moderate justices viewed as most likely to leave soonest — John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter. But McCain’s impact would be tempered by the likelihood that the Senate, which confirms nominees, will remain in Democratic hands, making it hard for him to name anyone with a strong and visible conservative tilt.

As for a President Barack Obama, he may not shift the Court very much either, because he might be replacing liberal-moderates Stevens, Ginsburg or Souter with liberal-moderate justices like Stephen Breyer, whom he has singled out as a justice whose approach to the Constitution he admires.

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