It is the label that sends chills through the Supreme Court: judicial activist, shorthand for members of the bench who put politics and partisanship above respect for Congress, the Constitution, and the power of precedent.
The justices are used to such rhetorical slings from lawmakers and political commentators, but not from one of their own.
But Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in recent weeks has laid down the accusation on her conservative colleagues, and it threatens to raise tensions as the court begins its new term on Monday.
The docket may not be the blockbuster of the past two years-- where healthcare reform, voting rights, and gay marriage grabbed headlines-- but a range of hot-button issues will keep the nine-member bench busy.
"The possibilities for changes in the law are even greater this term, because there is an array of cases where conservatives might overrule or significantly undercut more liberal precedents," said Thomas Goldstein, publisher of SCOTUSblog.com, and a leading Washington appellate attorney.
Among the petitions the court will address:
• Affirmative action and whether states violate the Constitution when passing laws banning racial preferences in college admissions and job hiring.
• Legislative prayer and the responsibility of states to accommodate a variety of faiths to speak in a public forum.
• A "separation of powers" political fight between the president and Congress over recess appointments.
And more cases may soon be added:
• Whether search warrants are needed before police can look at your cellphone data.
• Can business exempt themselves from parts of the healthcare reform law on religious freedom grounds?
The court's eldest justice gave several print interviews over the summer, a rarity for a member of the bench not promoting a book or extracurricular project. Ginsburg told the New York Times this was this "was one of the most activist courts in history."
She clarified her remarks to USA Today: "If you take activism to mean readiness to strike down laws passed by Congress, I think the current court will go down in history as one of the most activist courts in that regard."
The 80-year-old justice was particularly concerned about the court's June ruling to gut the key enforcement provision of the Voting Rights Act.
Section 5 gave the federal government coverage power over states with a past history of discrimination -- requiring those jurisdictions to get Washington's prior approval before any changes in their voting laws -- including voter ID and early registration.
In her powerful dissent, read from the bench, the senior member of the court's unofficial liberal wing called the majority decision "hubris."
"After exhaustive evidence-gathering and deliberative process, Congress reauthorized the VRA, including the coverage provision, with overwhelming bipartisan support" in 2006, she wrote. "In my judgment, the court errs egregiously by overriding Congress' decision."
The Justice Department has since sued Texas and North Carolina over their voting procedures, using another part of the law that could make it considerably harder for federal officials to prove discriminatory intent.
But on a larger stage, Ginsburg's recent comments have reignited a longstanding debate over the role of judges -- and whether Chief Justice John Roberts and his fellow conservatives have a long-term strategy to selectively tilt the court to the right -- in areas like affirmative action, election financing, and business regulation.
"I think that Justice Ginsburg is picking up on something the American people have picked up on as well-- the Supreme Court conservatives might be stepping over their bounds," said Elizabeth Wydra, chief counsel at the progressive Constitutional Accountability Center.
"Ginsburg is pointing out that the conservatives are in fact what we might call activists -- going beyond what the law requires to have a more conservative ideological agenda."
But other legal observers have suggested Ginsburg is inappropriately shedding her judicial robes for the politician's microphone. Some conservatives call it a form of "sour grapes"-- attacking the result only when you lose.