The Supreme Court and the Sculpting of America
The first Monday in October is the single most important day in American jurisprudence. It’s the day the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) convenes to begin hearing legal arguments that will go on to shape every facet of American life.
As each court is known by the Chief Justice’s name, 7 October began the 15th year of the Roberts Court marking the first time in 50 years that the court has had a “reliable” conservative majority.
After the tumultuous appointment of President Trump’s nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the court has come under close scrutiny. It’s been thought that many of the cases from 2018 weren’t too controversial, presumably to help Justice Kavanaugh get his footing.
For the cases on the 2019 docket, the training wheels are off. The court will be hearing and deciding upon a number of critical cases this year.
The Roberts Court wasted no time in flexing its conservative muscle by vacating the decision of a lower court in Michigan who had ruled that “34 of the state’s voting districts were specifically designed to disadvantage Democratic voters, deliberately diluting the power of their vote to ensure a particular partisan outcome.” This is legalese for what is known as gerrymandering. The Michigan lower court also stated that gerrymandering was a “pernicious practice that undermines our democracy.”
The 5-4 decision cut right along ideological lines, and saw Chief Justice John Roberts invoke the “Political Question Doctrine” – which states that political questions are beyond the reach of the federal courts.
The conservative majority court determined that it was “constitutionally permissible for voting districts to be drawn with the specific intent to disadvantage voters of a particular political ideology.” At the same time, Chief Justice Roberts acknowledged that the “ruling may enable increasingly inequitable political representation.”
In a case that clearly indicates Justice Kavanaugh’s “honeymoon” period is over the court is set to review Louisiana abortion laws. Since abortion providers were still appealing the initial decision which said that providers of abortion in Louisiana must have admitting privileges to a nearby hospital, SCOTUS voted 5-4 in February to delay the law from taking effect until the appeals have been exhausted.
This Louisiana law is remarkably similar to the Texas law the Supreme Court struck down in 2016. At the time, the court found the driving distance between the abortion clinic and any nearby hospital posed an undue burden on a woman’s constitutional right to access an abortion.
Aside from the courts’ conservative majority today, the difference between the Louisiana law and Texas law is driving distance. Since Lousiana is a smaller state, the driving distances between the clinic and hospital wouldn’t be as burdensome as it was in Texas.
The court is expected to hear arguments for this early next year with their decision being rendered in July 2020. If that timing gives you pause, it should. This will be a hot button decision, delivered at the peak of what promises to be a fiery election cycle; all but ensuring it will become even more combustible.
While Roe v. Wade may still be the law of the land, this Louisiana case is opening the door for other states to sidestep around overturning Roe v. Wade. If SCOTUS votes along ideological lines, it would blast open the door for other states to follow suit and therefore making the procedure extremely arduous, if not impossible, state-by-state.
More succinctly, this decision alone will re-shape women’s reproductive rights for decades.
SCOTUS also faces its biggest Second Amendment case in ten years. At stake is whether or not New York City’s ban on transporting a “licensed, locked and unloaded handgun to a home or outside city limits is consistent with the Second Amendment.”
Shortly after New York City learned SCOTUS would hear the case, they reversed the ban and the state legislature immediately wrote a new law prohibiting New York City from reinstating the ban. Even though the city has asked the Court to dismiss the case, the fact that they decided against all the dismissal submissions is setting off alarms among gun-control advocates.
All of this prompted Justice Sonia Sotomayer to opine that the court is “bending rules in order to achieve conservative outcomes.”
Also at stake is the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. This Obama-era program has helped over 700,000 immigrants avoid deportation and get them permits for work. It’s also been a thorn in President Trump’s side since he was sworn in.
Overturning this would fall right in line with his anti-immigration position and his delight at wiping out anything President Obama accomplished.
One of the first cases they heard this session was Ramos V. Louisiana, which questioned whether “the Fourteenth Amendment fully incorporates the Sixth Amendment guarantee of a unanimous verdict.” In other words, can juries convict criminals without a unanimous verdict.
The Fourteenth Amendment also appears in Kahler v. Kansas, which is asking whether the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments permit a state to abolish the insanity defense.
The court is also dipping its toe into the issue of LGBTQ rights. Since President Trump reversed President Obama’s protection of transgendered individuals its raised the issue of whether their protection falls under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Court must decide whether this 1964 act protects people from discrimination in the workplace if they are gay or transgender.
However, of the 44 cases the court will hear this session, perhaps none may be more important than the potential case facing Chief Justice John Roberts. Should the House of Representatives vote to impeach President Trump, it would then move to a trial in the senate. As Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Roberts would be responsible for presiding over the trial in the Senate.
If the Supreme Court of the United States continues to vote along ideological lines, as is expected, the conservative majority will have a profound impact on America. Not only will American progressives be in for a reckoning but so will all American citizens.
Regardless of what one may think of the way President Donald Trump governs, or doesn’t govern, his legacy will be how he and the Republicans have shaped The Supreme Court and the lower courts in the United States.
Without question, these appointments and their respective decisions will impact the way American’s live for decades.