An air of inevitability hangs over the US Supreme Court. Gone is the 8-foot-high fencing around the majestic building, erected to keep out protesters after an unprecedented leak in May revealed the court was poised to eliminate the constitutional right to abortion. But inside the marble walls, where the justices return on Oct. 3 for their next nine-month term, the court has an ambitious agenda—one by all appearances destined to fulfill more conservative wish-list items that will exacerbate the nation’s political and cultural divides.
Overturning Roe v. Wade with the Dobbs decision in June was merely the biggest jolt in a
“This court is refashioning the law in huge ways at a very rapid pace,” says Leah Litman, a University of Michigan Law School professor who’s critical of the court, saying the conservative justices “just don’t care” about either the law or the facts. Meanwhile, conservatives spent their summer celebrating. “It was the best Supreme Court term in living memory in terms of being faithful to the Constitution, to its original meaning, to the text of the laws they were interpreting,” says
The rulings last term represent the biggest spoils yet from the Republican power politics that let former President
The revolution is proving as wide as it is deep, as the Republican-appointed justices put their stamp on immigration law, voting rules, criminal procedure, and civil rights. The court ruled 6-3 in 19 cases this past term, the most in percentage terms since at least 1937, according to Adam Feldman, whose Empirical Scotus blog analyzes the court’s work. Of those, 14 produced conservative victories, in fights over capital punishment, campaign finance limits, vaccine requirements, and other issues. In three other cases, the court’s liberals joined with a single conservative only to fall short in a 5-4 decision.
Although the new term will be the first with Justice
And those are just the October arguments. Later on, the court will consider letting businesses invoke the First Amendment to refuse to provide services for
Notably, the court easily could have turned away most of these cases without granting a hearing. None stem from the type of lower court disagreement that all but forces the Supreme Court to get involved. What’s spurring the court’s selection of cases is the conservative agenda, says
Fifteen months ago, despite the 6-3 conservative majority, a squinting liberal might have seen some reason for hope. The term that ended in July 2021 included a 7-2 decision preserving the Affordable Care Act. The two newest justices, Barrett and Kavanaugh, had hinted they might be more interested in incremental changes than sweeping overhauls. Things were bad but not yet catastrophic.
All such pretenses are now gone, and the court faces at least the specter of a legitimacy crisis, if not a full-blown one. A survey taken in June found public confidence in the court at 25%, its lowest level in Gallup’s 50 years of polling. A Pew Research Center poll conducted in August found a record partisan divide, with only 28% of Democrats approving of the court, compared with 73% of Republicans. All six of the conservative justices are Republican appointees, a fact fueling the perception the court has become a
“If one judge dies or leaves a court, and another judge comes in, and all of a sudden the law changes on you, what does that say?” liberal Justice
Yet some of the court’s conservatives are clamoring for still more far-reaching cases. Justice
That tone is setting the stage for a term likely to be every bit as divisive as the one that just ended. With the conservative legal revolution marching on, the question is increasingly not so much where the Supreme Court is going as how quickly it’s going to get there.
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