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In political crosshairs, U.S. Supreme Court weighs abortion and guns By Reuters


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO – The Authority of Law statue outside of the U.S. Supreme Court Building is pictured as rulings are due to be published today in Washington, D.C., U.S., June 25, 2021. REUTERS/Ken Cedeno/File photo

Andrew Chung and Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – Just before midnight on September 1, debates over whether America’s Supreme Court’s conservative majority would dramatically alter American life took on a new intensity when justices allowed a Texas ban on abortion to take effect.

As the nine-month-old term begins, six of the seven justices (three conservatives and one liberal) will be under intense scrutiny. They have taken up cases that could enable them to overturn abortion rights established in a landmark ruling 48 years ago and also expand gun rights – two cherished goals of American conservatives.

There are also cases that may expand religious rights, building upon several recent rulings.

These contentious cases come at a time when opinion surveys show that public approval of the court is waning even as a commission named by President Joe Biden explores recommending changes such expanding the number of justices or imposing term limits in place of their lifetime appointments.

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Some justices made speeches in response to criticisms and raised questions about the legitimacy of this non-political court. Amy Coney Barrett who is the junior most member of the court, was confirmed in the Senate by Republicans days before the 2020 election. She stated that this month, the court wasn’t made up “of partisan hackers”.

Kannon Shanmugam, an attorney who often argues cases in the court said, “There is no doubt that it’s under threat right now.” He spoke at an event organised by the conservative Federalist Society. “The court’s rhetorical and critical tone is more than I have ever seen in any other time during my professional career.”

Biden, an abortion rights advocate, was alerted by the court’s 5-4 late-night decision to not block Texas’ Republican-backed law prohibiting abortions within six weeks after a woman has given birth.

Now, the justices have an opportunity to take it further. They will hear a case on Dec. 1 in which Mississippi is defending its law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Mississippi’s Republican Attorney General is asking for the court to reverse the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion across the country and brought an end to an era in which some states had banned it.

The justices may make it simpler for individuals to get permits to transport handguns out of the house in another case that is a huge success. They will consider on Nov. 3 whether to invalidate a New York state regulation that lets people obtain a concealed-carry permit only if they can show they need a gun for self-defense.


Trump, the former President, was able to nominate three conservative justices, including Barrett, who tilted it further rightward with the assistance of Senator Mitch McConnell, a key Republican.

The Democratic-led Congress has held two hearings in recent months on how the court has increasingly decided major issues, including the Texas abortion one, with late-night emergency decisions using its “shadow docket” process that lacks customary public oral arguments.

“The Supreme Court has shown it can allow facially unconstitutional law to be in effect when the law aligns with certain ideological preferences,” said Democrat Dick Durbin on Wednesday, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Conservative Justice Samuel Alito in a speech on Thursday objected to criticism that portrays the court’s members as a “dangerous cabal that resorts to sneaky and improper methods.”

Alito explained that “this portrayal feeds unprecedented attempts to intimidate or damage the court as an independent institution.”

Last month, Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas said that judges “ask for trouble” when they get into politics. Thomas said Roe V. Wade should be annulled, just as conservatives previously argued.

Liberal Justice Stephen Breyer noted in a May speech that the court’s legitimacy relies in part on avoiding major upheavals in the law when people have come to rely on existing precedents.

Breyer stated that while the law may not be perfect, if it is constantly being changed people won’t have the knowledge to follow the instructions. The more it changes the more people will want it to change.

Roe v. Wade is almost a 50-year-old law that has been upheld by abortion rights activists.

Breyer is at 82, the oldest court member. He himself is the center of attention. Liberal activists have asked him to step down so Biden could appoint someone younger who can serve for many decades. Breyer stated that he does not know when he will step down.

Jenn Mascott from George Mason University, who was once a Thomas clerk, stated that the justices shouldn’t be affected by public opinion.

Mascott explained that “what the justices have stated they want is to decide every case on the rule law.” They shouldn’t be thinking they might be perceived as being too partisan in any way, Mascott said.