Takeaways from the blockbuster victories the conservatives have won in the Supreme Court


In rulings in recent weeks, the conservative Supreme Court has transformed the legal landscape around an assortment of burning issues, including abortion, gun rights, immigration and religious freedom.

The cascade of sweeping decisions was the culmination of a generational effort to transform the upper judiciary with the appointment of reliable conservative judges.

Here’s a look at what the tribunal has accomplished during this term and what its decisions mean for the future:

The Supreme Court decision that had the most dramatic fallout from this term was its June 24 decision overturning its abortion rights precedents. The ruling had the effect on the ground of making abortion illegal in several states – in some places immediately after the ruling was announced – while opening the door to a new round of legal battles over access to the procedure. .

Red states — with the green light from the Supreme Court — moved quickly to enact abortion bans and extreme restrictions, and abortion rights advocates rushed to slow enforcement of new bans.

The decision was a major victory not only for anti-abortion activists, but for the conservative legal movement as a whole, which saw Roe v. Wade as the leader among several examples of the Supreme Court creating rights that lack explicit references in the text of the Constitution.

In practical terms, Dobbs’ view means that state and federal lawmakers now have the ability to pass abortion restrictions down to outright bans, though they already face challenges. legal challenges from abortion rights advocates who argue that some state constitutions protect the right to abortion. .

That the court overturned a 49-year-old precedent — and one rooted in a deeply divisive issue, affecting the most personal decision facing pregnant women and their families — was remarkable.

“Regardless of the exact scope of future laws, one outcome of today’s decision is certain: the restriction of women’s rights and their status as free and equal citizens,” the liberal justices jointly wrote in their dissent.

The 6-to-3 conservative majority made gun safety laws far more vulnerable to legal challenges in a case, called New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, which concerned New York’s restrictions on the public carrying of firearms.

The type of discretionary licensing regime – in which a gun owner must obtain special, discretionary permission to carry the gun in public – that was struck down in the case was only adopted by a handful of other states, although these states contain some of the nation’s largest population centers.

The biggest implication of the majority opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas is that lower courts have now been instructed to view gun restrictions with more skepticism. He wrote that the Constitution “presumptively” protects conduct covered by the plain text of the Second Amendment. It will be up to the government seeking to implement a new restriction to prove to the courts that “regulation is in keeping with this nation’s historic tradition of gun regulation,” Thomas said.

According to Thomas’s new test, the courts must assess whether the regulation in question has a historical parallel to the way firearms were approached at the time of the drafting of the Constitution. Thomas pointed out that historical notions of firearms apply to modern firearms technology, but he said the lack of a historical analogue for a regulation could render the regulation unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court dealt a blow both to the Biden administration’s efforts to address climate change and to the broader authority that executive branch agencies have to regulate in various policy areas.

The court did so on Thursday in a case called West Virginia v. emissions in power plants. A 6-3 Conservative majority overturned that decision, using a legal justification that can now be used against a host of other types of regulations where government agencies are accused of overstepping their authority.

The judges in the EPA case fleshed out a legal doctrine known as the major issues doctrine, which states that for an agency to enact a rule with major economic or political impacts, it must have been instructed. explicit from Congress to that effect.

The court — reviewing a never-implemented Obama administration climate rule that the Biden administration did not seek to revive — said Congress failed to give the EPA the power to implement the sweeping regulations that Obama’s EPA had proposed. The decision will likely spur future challenges from a climate rule for power plants that the Biden administration has been scrambling to roll out. And it could fuel lawsuits against other kinds of federal climate regulations, like those targeting emissions from cars or emissions from the oil and gas industry.

It also involves regulations from other federal government agencies, as decades of deadlock in Congress have made executive agencies a primary source of policymaking.

The conservative court reshaped the playing field around issues of religious freedom and the separation of church and state.

In one case, the 6-3 majority said Maine could not exclude religious education from the voucher program it offers to parents who live in rural areas without public schools. In another case, the court – again ruling along ideological lines – sided with a coach at a public high school who suffered professional retaliation for praying on the field after football games.

Not all of the religious liberty cases before the court were so contentious. An 8-1 court ruled that Texas must allow a death row inmate’s spiritual advisor to “lay hands on him” in prayer during his execution. And the court voted unanimously against Boston for refusing to hoist a Christian flag atop a flagpole outside City Hall as part of a program celebrating Boston’s greater community.

According to Mark Rienzi — the president of the religious liberty advocacy group, the Becket Fund — the direct line connecting the Boston flag case to the cases involving Maine’s voucher program and the praying high school football coach was the Supreme Court clarifying how governments should view the Establishment Clause.

Rienzi said that for decades governments at all levels had internalized an interpretation of the Establishment Clause that caused them to treat those who do religious expression worse than other types of actors.

Overall, the lesson for the court is, “‘Hey governments, that’s not the way you’re supposed to do it,'” Rienzi told CNN.

While immigrant rights advocates secured a short-term victory with a ruling that immigration law allowed President Joe Biden to end a controversial Trump-era immigration policy, that ruling – and another earlier in the term – will likely hamper future legal efforts to stop allegedly illegal immigration policies.

In the pair of decisions, the Supreme Court restricted the power of lower courts to block the implementation of certain allegedly illegal immigration policies. In the previous case, Garland v. Gonzales, the 6-3 conservative majority, said lower courts cannot offer class-wide relief in such cases – which relate to policies related to the arrest, detention and deportation of immigrants. This case was later cited in the court’s end-of-term ruling regarding the so-called stay-in-Mexico policy put in place by the Trump administration.

The ruling suggests that going forward, in cases involving these types of policies, lower courts can award relief that affects individual protesters, but will not be allowed to issue orders that generally prohibit immigration officers from carry out certain practices.

This could have wide ramifications for immigration policy. Over the past five years, a multitude of legal challenges to immigration policies have disrupted the implementation of these measures.

Overall, it looks like the legal process of stopping certain immigration policies in court will be much slower and more arduous for immigrant advocates. The delay for these cases to reach the Supreme Court is already long, and the High Court accepts only a limited number of cases each year.

In two cases, the court limited the ability to bring civil suits against individual government actors who allegedly acted unconstitutionally in the performance of their official duties.

In a case called Egbert v. Boule, the court reduced a precedent it set in the 1971 decision known as “Bivens,” which allowed an individual to sue a federal officer for damages if their basic rights were violated. In the Egbert case, the judges unanimously ruled that a federal border control agent could not face individual civil liability for alleged First Amendment retaliation.

In a portion of the majority opinion that the three liberals disagreed with, Thomas also severely limited the circumstances in which a Fourth Amendment excessive force complaint could be brought against a federal officer.

The ruling had the effect of expanding immunity protecting federal officials from private suits, though it did not overthrow “Bivens” outright.

Later in the warrant, the court also undermined Miranda’s so-called rights protections – that is, the warning suspects are supposed to receive from law enforcement that they have the right to keep silent and get a lawyer – in a case called Tekoh v. Vega. The court said a law enforcement official’s failure to provide a Miranda warning did not in itself make the official vulnerable to a civil suit alleging a violation of the Fifth Amendment.

The ruling did not eliminate Miranda’s right, as evidence obtained when it was violated would still be excluded from the trial. But critics of the decision said that without the added legal risk of a possible civil lawsuit, law enforcement officials would feel less incentive to comply with their Miranda obligations.


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