By Christopher Harper
This term for the U.S. Supreme Court, which opened yesterday, may be the most compelling in our lifetimes, particularly for conservatives.
Poised with a relatively solid five-vote majority, the justices have an opportunity to make some significant changes in the law. Please note that I have excluded Chief Justice John Roberts from this majority.
At the center of this new-found power, Justice Clarence Thomas came out firing rapid questions in a case involving a dispute between Tennessee and Mississippi. Justice Thomas had been known for saying few words during oral arguments, mainly because he was often a sole voice of reason in years past.
It will be refreshing to see Justice Thomas at the forefront of arguments.
On its first day, the court sent a clear warning to the left when the justices issued a terse decision NOT to grant congressional voting rights for the District of Columbia. The ruling was clear: DC isn’t a state!
The court has agreed to hear appeals that explicitly call for overruling Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that women had a constitutional right to end pregnancy.
The case surrounds Mississippi’s “Gestational Age Act,” which was passed in 2018 and allows abortion after 15 weeks “only in medical emergencies or for severe fetal abnormality.” If doctors perform abortions outside the parameters of the law, they could have their medical licenses suspended or revoked and may be subject to additional penalties and fines. The state’s attorney general has argued that Roe v. Wade was “egregiously wrong” and should be overturned.
In September, the court declined to block an even more restrictive Texas abortion law, on a 5-4 vote. Chief Justice Roberts found himself in dissent along with the three liberal justices.
Another case, which is set for arguments in November, challenges a New York state law limiting concealed weapons permits. The court could expand Second Amendment rights to allow handguns in public. In 2008 and 2010 decisions, the court recognized a constitutional right to keep a handgun at home for self-defense.
Several cases reflect the court’s concern for religious expression. In November, the justices will consider a condemned Texas inmate’s claim that the state must let his pastor lay hands upon him while he is executed.
A December argument challenges Maine’s public education system, which relies on state tuition vouchers for private schools. Half the state’s school districts don’t have enough students to justify schools of their own, so the state reimburses tuition at secular private schools. Parents who prefer religious schools argue that the program is discriminatory.
The court also agreed recently to consider whether the city of Boston, which allows outside groups to fly their banners from flagpoles outside City Hall, violated the First Amendment by rejecting a cross-bearing “Christian flag.”
The hollering from the left started even before the court convened, with abortion advocates protesting in front of the court’s building. Moreover, the media have renewed their rumblings about the rightward tilt of the court. For example, The News York Times has declared that the court is “off the rails.”
I guess it’s time buckle up for what is likely to be an interesting year!