- Supreme Court opens new nine-month term on Monday
- Historic precedent to legalize abortion nationwide is under threat
- Another case could extend gun rights outside the home
WASHINGTON, Oct. 1 (Reuters) – Just before midnight on Sept. 1, the debate over whether the conservative majority in the U.S. Supreme Court will dramatically change life in America took on new ferocity when judges banned almost completely abortion in Texas take effect.
The court’s scrutiny will only increase when the judges – six Conservatives and three Liberals – open their new nine-month term on Monday. They have taken on cases that could see them overturn abortion rights established in a landmark decision 48 years ago and also extend gun rights – two goals dear to American conservatives.
In addition, some planned cases could extend religious rights, building on several decisions rendered in recent years.
These contentious cases come at a time when opinion polls show public approval of the court is waning even as a commission appointed by President Joe Biden considers recommending changes such as increasing the number of judges or the imposition of term limits in lieu of their life appointments.
Some judges have given speeches refuting the court’s criticisms and questioning its legitimacy as an apolitical institution. Its most junior member, Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative confirmed by Senate Republicans just days before the 2020 presidential election, said this month that the tribunal “is not made up of a bunch of hackers. supporters “.
“There is no doubt that the legitimacy of the court is currently under threat,” lawyer Kannon Shanmugam, who frequently pleads cases in court, said at an event organized by the Federalist Conservative Society. “The court’s level of rhetoric and criticism is higher than I can certainly remember at any point in my career.”
The court’s 5-4 decision not to block Republicans-backed Texas law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy has put abortion rights advocates, including Biden, on high alert.
Judges now have a chance to go even further. They will hear a case on Dec. 1 in which Mississippi defends its law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Mississippi Republican Attorney General is asking court to overturn Roe v. Wade of 1973 which legalized abortion nationwide and ended a time when some states banned it.
In another successful case, judges could make it easier for people to obtain permits to carry handguns outside the home, a major extension of gun rights. They will examine on November 3 whether to strike down a New York state regulation that allows people to get concealed transport permits only if they can prove they need a gun to get themselves. defend.
Former President Donald Trump was able to appoint three Tory judges, including Barrett, who tilted the court more to the right, with the help of the maneuvers of a key Republican colleague, Senator Mitch McConnell.
The Democratic-led Congress has held two hearings in recent months on how the court has increasingly decided on major issues, including the one on abortion in Texas, with emergency late-night decisions using its “ghost case” process which lacks the usual public oral arguments.
“The Supreme Court has now shown that it is ready to allow even seemingly unconstitutional laws to come into force when the law is aligned with certain ideological preferences,” Democrat Dick Durbin, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on Wednesday.
Conservative Judge Samuel Alito, in a speech on Thursday, objected to criticism which described the members of the court as a “dangerous cabal which resorts to underhand and inappropriate methods”.
“This portrayal fuels unprecedented efforts to intimidate or damage the tribunal as an independent institution,” Alito said.
Conservative Judge Clarence Thomas said last month that judges “ask for trouble” if they get into political matters. Thomas has previously stated that Roe v. Wade should be canceled, as many conservatives have called for.
Liberal Judge Stephen Breyer noted in a May speech that part of the court’s legitimacy rests on avoiding major upheavals in the law when people have come to rely on existing precedents.
“The law may not be perfect, but if you change it all the time people won’t know what to do, and the more you change it, the more people will ask for it to be changed,” Breyer said.
Abortion rights advocates have cited the fact that Roe v. Wade has been around for almost half a century as a reason not to cancel it.
Breyer, the oldest member of the court at 83, is himself the center of attention. Some liberal activists have urged him to retire so Biden can appoint a younger liberal who could serve for decades. Breyer said he has not decided when he will retire.
Jenn Mascott, a law professor at George Mason University, Thomas’ former paralegal, said judges should not be swayed by public opinion.
“What the judges said they want to do is decide each case according to the rule of law,” Mascott said. “I don’t think they should think the perception would be that they are too partisan one way or another.”
(This story corrects Judge Breyer’s age at 83, not 82)
Reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham and Scott Malone
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