What to Expect from the Supreme Court’s New Term
The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022-23 term began on Monday, October 3, and similarly to the previous term, it is expected to be extremely consequential. Supreme Court terms begin annually on the first Monday of October and are divided between sittings and intervening recesses. Almost immediately, the Court will face cases that address hot-button issues, with many of them surrounding the issue of race. Some of the immediate cases address affirmative action, the Voting Rights Act of 1964, civil rights laws, and the Independent State Legislature Theory. Rulings on these cases have the potential to overturn long-standing precedents as well as further affecting public opinion of the Court.
Context of Current Supreme Court Term
This new Supreme Court term follows a term led by a conservative supermajority of 6-3 which took decisive action in rulings on topics including the right to abortion, the right to carry guns outside of the home, and the ability of the federal government to address climate change. This has led to a rapid decrease in the public’s confidence in the court as well as widespread questions about its legitimacy. Currently, public opinion is at a record low; recent polls show that only 25% of Americans have confidence in the Supreme Court and 42% of Americans believe that the Supreme Court is too conservative. These statistics reflect the increasing politicisation of the Court and the negative public reaction that it has catalysed. This is further exemplified by the increasingly common protests outside of the Supreme Court and more public stances against its decisions. Members of the Court are aware of the public’s declining faith in its legitimacy. Most notably, Chief Justice Roberts has attempted to defend the Court, stating that it is the prerogative of the Court to interpret the Constitution and that its legitimacy should not be challenged depending on the popularity of a particular ruling. On the other hand, Justice Kagan has said that the legitimacy of the Court is something that must be earned, and it is dangerous both for the Court and for democracy if it abandons public opinion and loses the trust of the American people.
Voting Rights Act
The first of these landmark cases is Merrill v. Milligan, a case pertaining to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and one of multiple addressing the election process. The case questions whether or not Alabama’s 2021 redistricting plan violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The map contains only one predominantly Black district, although Black people make up over a quarter of Alabama’s population. The case was heard on Tuesday, October 4 and while no decision has been made, conservative justices are expected to uphold Alabama’s map. Such a ruling could have severely damaging consequences for minority representation in elections. Upholding Alabama’s redistricting plan would be another blow to the Voting Rights Act in a series of continual decisions that had weakened it.
Independent State Legislature Theory
Cases that could alter the status of elections in the U.S. continue with a lawsuit from North Carolina based on the Independent State Legislature Theory. The theory suggests that state legislatures should have almost entirely uninhibited control over federal elections. It relates to a case, Moore v. Harper, in which the North Carolina Supreme Court struck down a congressional redistricting plan on the basis that it was unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering. If the Republicans challenging the Court’s decision are successful, the result would heighten the power of the state legislature, at the expense of the state court.
The Supreme Court’s new term will also include cases on affirmative action: Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina, which will be heard on October 31. If the Court were to rule in favour of S.F.F.A., they would overturn a long history of affirmative action precedents, most notably Grutter v. Bollinger, which declared it was permissible for institutions to consider race as a factor for the purpose of achieving educational diversity. With the conservative supermajority, the Court will likely rule in favor of the S.F.F.A., determining that consideration of race within college admissions is unconstitutional.
Civil Rights Laws
The Supreme Court will hear a civil rights case that addresses the balance between religious freedom and LGBTQ+ rights, four years after their ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. This case, 303 Creative LLC. v. Ellis, was filed after web designer Lorie Smith, represented by 303 Creative LLC., in Colorado declared that she didn’t want to make designs for same-sex couples because it would violate her religious principles. If the Supreme Court were to rule in favour of Smith, it could have serious consequences for the ability to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, national origin, or gender as well as sexual orientation.
Ultimately, it is all but guaranteed that this term will be a momentous one for the Supreme Court. The potential impact of rulings in upcoming cases could affect Americans by making the protections against the disenfranchisement of minorities weaker. The implications for electoral trust in judicial institutions remain to be seen, but may further affect perceptions of the Judicial Branch as an increasingly political body of government.