The Supreme Court’s conservative majority has shown strength this term, handing down a series of blockbuster rulings that shift decades of case law to the right on everything from God and guns to abortion and climate change. .
As they erased Roe v. Wade, gave new muscle to the Second Amendment and bolstered the First Amendment’s “free exercise” guarantee of religion, the justices said they restored the Constitution’s original intent by cutting precedents that had calcified on the delicate members of the founding act.
And they did so in unprecedented circumstances, with an unprecedented leak of a draft opinion – on the abortion case, no less – and after a man was accused of trying to assassinate one of the Republican nominees.
The fearlessness of the majority was thrilling to those on the right.
“These victories have not been watered down,” said Curt Levey, chairman of the Justice Committee. “In some cases they gave us more than we expected.”
The left also recognized the audacity of the decisions.
“The majority have been more aggressive,” said Elliot Mincberg, senior fellow at People for the American Way. “Far-right judges are asserting themselves in disturbingly negative ways.”
After several terms with more ordinary cases, the court over the past nine months has heard cases touching on the biggest burning issues in American politics.
The next term, which begins in October, will keep pace, with voting rights cases and college affirmative action policies already on the docket.
“The conservative majority as long as it sticks together is something that can’t be stopped,” said Adam Feldman, law professor and author of the Empirical SCOTUS blog.
He said President Biden’s new appointee, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, is unlikely to change the situation, as he replaces Justice Stephen G. Breyer, another Democratic member.
It’s different from the latest new member, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who President Trump tapped to replace the late liberal icon, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Judge Barrett cemented the conservative bloc, often rendering the vote of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who was once seen as the swing judge, irrelevant.
Nowhere was this more apparent than in the abortion decision, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Chief Justice Roberts joined his GOP-appointed colleagues in enforcing Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, but he wasn’t on board as his colleagues then proceeded to erase full of Roe.
Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. said nearly half a century of trying to make Roe work had proven futile, with Americans still sharply divided on the issue of abortion. Roe having failed in both the legal research and his goal of calming the passions, he said it was time to overturn the decision.
“Roe was horribly wrong all along,” he wrote. “His reasoning was exceptionally weak and the decision had adverse consequences.”
Chief Justice Roberts called the decision a “serious shake-up for the justice system.”
The decision does not ban abortion, but rather refers the issue to state and congressional politicians. A number of states have already implemented strict bans, although others have said they will remain abortion “sanctuaries”.
Judge Alito turned to history to hit Roe.
Judge Clarence Thomas also looked to history to bolster the Second Amendment, ruling that states that impose strict testing on people applying for concealed-carry permits are against personal law. to bear arms.
Chief Justice Roberts joined his colleagues in this 6-3 decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Brun.
It was the judges’ first major decision on guns in years, and the decision came amid a rekindled debate over gun access, fueled by high-profile mass shootings in Uvalde, in Texas, and in Buffalo, New York.
Judge Thomas said the right to bear arms for personal protection cannot be left to the vagaries of the decision-making of state legislatures and that the Second Amendment that enshrines that right deserves “unqualified deference” from judges.
That’s not to say no restrictions are allowed, he said, but anything that would have seemed odd to the generation that ratified the Bill of Rights cannot be made constitutional by the passage of time or changing beliefs about gun ownership.
Roe wasn’t the only major 1970s precedent to fall.
The conservative majority also appears to have hit the nail on the head in Lemon, a 1971 case that was the high point for those arguing for a tough approach to eliminating any entanglement between government and religion.
Judge Neil M. Gorsuch said Joseph Kennedy, who coached football at a school in Bremerton, Washington, proved his postgame prayer was private and no student was forced to join him — by Indeed, on the three occasions that led to his dismissal, none did.
“The Constitution and the best of our traditions advise mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and repression, for religious and non-religious views,” he wrote for the majority.
The court ruled unanimously on a religion case, with a 9-0 decision slamming Boston for refusing to fly the flag of a Christian group, even though it had hosted the flags of other private groups in front City Hall.
That unanimity disappeared, however, when the judges were asked about Maine’s program to pay for private education for students in certain areas where there were not enough public high schools. The only problem was that Maine refused to pay for private religious schools.
The Conservative majority said it was discrimination.
The court added new checks on executive branch decision-making, ruling against an Obama-era climate change policy that claimed sweeping powers for the Environmental Protection Agency.
Justices enshrined what has become known as the ‘major issues doctrine’, saying that when agencies try to enact far-reaching regulations, courts must give them greater scrutiny to ensure they comply with intentions of Congress.
But Chief Justice Roberts also issued a ruling that gave the Biden administration more leeway to manage the chaos on the US-Mexico border.
In a 5-4 ruling, with Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh also joining the three Democratic appointees, the High Court said the Department of Homeland Security could revoke “Stay in Mexico,” a Trump-era policy which had repelled some illegal immigrants. the border with Mexico to await their appointments at immigration court.
Those same five justices scored another victory against the Biden administration earlier this year, ruling it had the power to require medical workers to receive the COVID vaccine.
But the court balked at a vaccine or testing mandate that the Biden administration had tried to impose on the country’s big employers. A 6-3 majority said the law did not allow it.
The series of highly publicized decisions has not been without consequence.
High Court approval ratings plummeted as Democrats complained of out-of-control decisions, and President Biden formed a commission to recommend changes to the court. The panel suggested term limits, which would likely require a constitutional amendment, but avoided a strong recommendation on filling the court with new justices, which would not require changing the founding document.
The leaked draft abortion notice, meanwhile, promises to plague the court in the months to come.
Chief Justice Roberts ordered an investigation that would have involved asking clerks to turn over their phone records.