Major issues await new Supreme Court justice
WASHINGTON (AP) — Justice Anthony Kennedy’s successor will have a chance over a likely decades-long career to tackle a host of big issues in the law and have a role in shaping the answers to them.
Most court-watchers and interest groups are focused on abortion and whether a more conservative justice may mean more restrictions on abortions get upheld or even whether the 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion decision affirming a woman’s right to abortion might someday be overturned.
But Kennedy’s replacement will quickly confront a host of issues, some prominent and others not. Whomever President Donald Trump chooses, the person is expected to move the court to the right. Conservative groups, seeing a court friendlier to their views, might look at the new court and think it’s time to bring challenges to liberal laws currently on the books. And conservative state lawmakers may also attempt to pass legislation testing boundaries they wouldn’t have while Kennedy was on the court.
A look at a few issues a new justice could confront in short order:
The Supreme Court in the term that ended Wednesday had two cases before it dealing with whether electoral maps can give an unfair advantage to a political party. The justices ducked that question, sending cases from Wisconsin and Maryland back to lower courts for further review. Kennedy had been the justice who left the door open to court challenges to extreme partisan redistricting, but he never found a way to measure it that satisfied him. A case involving North Carolina’s heavily Republican congressional districting map now in a lower court could provide an opportunity for the justices to revisit the issue as soon as next term.
Another unresolved issue recently before the court is whether a business can cite religious objections in order to refuse service to gay and lesbian people. The court could have tackled that issue in a case argued this term about a Colorado baker who wouldn’t make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Instead, the justices found a member of the Colorado commission that looked at the case displayed an anti-religious bias against the baker but left for another day the broader question.
The justices could have added another case on the issue to the list they’ll begin hearing arguments in this fall, a case that involved a flower shop owner who cited her religious beliefs in declining to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding. For now they’ve sent the case back to a lower court.
The court has been reluctant to take gun rights cases in recent years, repeatedly turning away challenges to gun restrictions. In 2008 and 2010 the court voted 5-4, with Kennedy in the majority both times, in saying people have a right to have guns in their own homes, striking down handgun ownership bans in the District of Columbia and Chicago. But the court left open how broadly the Second Amendment may protect gun rights in other settings. The court hasn’t taken a major gun rights case since 2010.
A regular but sometimes forgotten part of the Supreme Court’s work involves ruling on last-minute petitions from death row inmates. About two dozen executions were carried out in the U.S. last year, and they tend to generate a flurry of legal activity. It takes five votes to grant a stay of execution and the court’s conservatives are typically more reluctant to do so than its liberals. Since the court has four reliably conservative votes, if Kennedy’s replacement is more conservative, it may be that much harder for a death row inmate to get a reprieve.