The most important cases that will be decided by the Supreme Court in the first years of the 21st century will likely involve some of the very questions that have preoccupied the court in the 20th. With the court in virtual equipoise about many of the most contentious issues it faces, interest early in the new century may focus not so much on any futuristic transformation in the court’s immediate docket as on the appointments that are likely to be made by the winner of the 2000 presidential election.

For as the century turns, the Supreme Court’s approach to many profoundly important issues hangs strangely in the balance. I say “strangely” because the court still contains, as a legacy of the 12 years of presidents Reagan and Bush, an overwhelming Republican majority. Seven of its nine members are Republicans, six appointed — or in the case of Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, reappointed — by presidents Reagan or Bush.