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Supreme Court Docket Gets Busier With More Culture-War Showdowns

Feb. 22, 2022, 9:28 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court is aggressively filling its calendar with culture-war clashes, taking up fights over abortion, gay rights, guns, affirmative action and voting rights at the behest of conservative advocates looking to take advantage of a bench reshaped by former President Donald Trump.

With three Trump appointees giving it a 6-3 conservative majority, the court is putting aside objections that many of the cases don’t meet the traditional standards for review.

The newest case -- accepted on Tuesday -- could let some businesses refuse to take part in same-sex weddings. The court will hear an appeal from a web designer who opposes gay marriage on religious grounds and says the Constitution’s free-speech clause entitles her to an exemption from a Colorado anti-discrimination law. The court took the case even though officials haven’t tried to enforce the law against her.

Here’s what else is on the agenda, starting with six cases likely to be decided in the current term, scheduled to end in late June:

Abortion

In the highest-profile case of its term, the court is considering overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade decision and letting states outlaw abortion.

During arguments Dec. 1, the court’s six conservatives all suggested they were likely to uphold a Mississippi ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy. And five signaled they were interested in going further and eliminating the constitutional right to abortion altogether.

The ruling will come in a term in which the justices have already allowed an unusual Texas law that uses private lawsuits to prohibit abortion after six weeks.

Guns

The court is poised to issue its biggest Second Amendment ruling in more than a decade, potentially establishing a constitutional right to carry a handgun in public. Advocates are challenging a New York law that requires people to show a special reason to get a concealed-carry permit.

New York is one of eight states with laws that the National Rifle Association says prevent most people from legally carrying a handgun in public. Arguments Nov. 3 suggested the court might strike down the New York law while leaving room for states to bar weapons in sensitive places, such as courthouses and schools.

Climate Change

The court hears arguments next week on a bid by coal companies and Republican-led states to curb the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to tackle climate change. The case could undercut President Joe Biden’s pledge to halve greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the decade.

The court accepted the case, which stems from litigation over a Trump-era rule, even though Biden’s EPA hasn’t yet proposed a plan to cut greenhouse emissions from the power plants at the center of the case.

Immigration

The Biden administration is trying to end a Trump policy that requires asylum applicants to remain in Mexico while their cases are being processed. The current administration was able to rescind the policy briefly before a Trump-appointed judge ordered it reinstated and a panel of three Republican-appointed judges affirmed.

That left the administration with little choice but to turn to the Supreme Court, even though the justices had already rejected the administration on an emergency basis. The court has said arguments will be during the last week of April.

School Tuition

During arguments Dec. 8, the court’s conservative wing signaled it was poised to strengthen the rights of parents to use public dollars to pay tuition at religious schools. The case concerns a Maine program that covers the cost of private education in areas without public schools but bars use of the funds at institutions that promote religion.

Praying Coach

The court has agreed to hear an appeal from a football coach who lost his job at a public high school in Washington state after repeatedly praying alongside his players on the 50-yard line after games. The coach says the prayers were private religious expression while the school district says some students felt coerced into taking part.

The court hasn’t said when it will hear arguments. But the Jan. 14 decision to grant review gives the justices time to hear the case in April and rule this term.

Affirmative Action

The court next term will use cases involving Harvard College and the University of North Carolina to consider abolishing the use of race in college admissions decisions. A group run by a longtime opponent of racial preferences is urging the court to overturn precedents that let universities consider race as a way to diversify their campuses.

Affirmative action is common at selective universities, though nine states including California and Florida ban race-conscious admissions at public institutions.

Voting Rights

In another case set for next term, the court will consider insulating states and local governments from claims that their voting maps discriminate against minority voters. The justices will review a ruling that said the Voting Rights Act required Alabama to include a second heavily Black district in its congressional map.

A divided high court blocked the ruling early this month, restoring a Republican-drawn map with just one majority-Black district out of seven for the November election.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Greg Stohr in Washington at gstohr@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Elizabeth Wasserman at ewasserman2@bloomberg.net

Megan Scully

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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