In a way, 2022 is the fulfillment of two separate visions for the US Supreme Court. Never before have courts been so diverse, and never in the past 90 years have they been so conservative.
Changes in the nation’s highest court have translated into major decisions over the past year, landscape change in the United States on issues such as gun rights, abortion, and religious freedom.
The court begins in 2022 in the middle of its first full term with a new 6-3 conservative majority. The past five years have brought four new members to the nine-man bench, including three people appointed by former President Donald Trumpa Republican..
The result is a series of decisions skewed to the right. According to data released in June 2022, the court favors conservatives more than 73% of the time in non-consensus cases, a ratio surpassed only in 1931.
But with Democrats now holding a majority in the Senate, US President Joe Biden was able to deliver on his campaign promise to appoint the first Black woman to the Supreme Court. : Ketanji Brown Jackson.
All four recent appointees are under the age of 60, and with Supreme Court justices appointed for life, they have the potential to shape rulings for decades to come.
Here are five issues the court has addressed in 2022 – and why they matter in 2023 and beyond.
Strike abortion as a constitutional right
If there is one case that defines the Supreme Court in 2022, it is Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health FoundationThe case overturns nearly half a century of precedent defending abortion as a constitutional right.
It’s upside down Roe v Wade, a Supreme Court ruling in 1973 found that the U.S. Constitution provided an unwritten right to privacy, protecting the right to abortion. Roe has become a political flashpoint since the decision was made, with conservatives, many of them Republicans, aiming to knock it down.
During the 2016 presidential race, Trump promised to prioritize overturning Roe and promised to bring “pro-life judges to court.”
The leak itself made history: Right-wing and left-wing judges criticized it as a violate traditionand an ongoing investigation.
The Dobbs decision, announced in June, puts abortion rights in the hands of the states. Thirteen had “activation” law, which automatically issued an abortion ban after Roe was repealed. Other states still have pre-Roe abortion bans written into their laws.
Many of those bans are now facing legal appeals, and some states, like Michigan and Kansas, Vote to affirm abortion rights.
The Dobbs decision also has implications beyond abortion. In his concurring opinion, Judge Clarence Thomas called on the court to “reconsider all substantive procedural precedents of this Court”, including the decision legalize same-sex marriage.
In response, the United States Congress passed Respect the Marriage Actintroduced federal protections for same-sex marriage in a remarkable show of bipartisan support for LGBTQ rights.
Expansion of religious freedom
In a series of rulings this year, the court expanded the legal interpretation of religious freedom and rejected the age-old rule of separation of church and state.
The problem is the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, which states that the government cannot prohibit the free exercise of religion nor promote the “establishment” of any religion.
Critics of the court’s decision on religion in 2022 question whether that “establishment” provision will continue to serve as a wall between government and religion. Bloomberg’s Noah Feldman has gone so far as to call the principle “dead”.
In Kennedy v Bremerton School District, a conservative majority sided with a football coach at a public high school who was suspended for praying on the football field after games. The court ruled his speech was a private expression of devotion.
The same 6-3 majority in Carson v Makin decided that if the state of Maine offered coupons to families to send their children to private schools, they could not refuse to offer them. similar funding for religious schools.
And in a case in Boston, the court unanimously decided that the city should allow a Christian flag fly over town hall because it allows other groups to raise their flags.
Entering 2023, the Supreme Court will once again raise the question of religious freedom in the case of a Colorado website designer seek exemptions from state anti-discrimination laws. She has argued that being forced to design wedding websites for same-sex marriages would violate her religious freedom.
Less limits on concealed weapons
Gun rights advocates won big in 2022 with a judgment of the Supreme Court in a case brought by the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association and two of its members.
They debated New York’s law governing how the state issues “concealed carry” permits, allowing owners to carry concealed firearms in public.
In about 43 states, officials are required to issue a “concealed carry” license as long as the applicant meets certain basic requirements. But in six states, including New York, officials can exercise discretion in awarding permits.
Applicants in those six states must demonstrate that they have “good cause” for wanting such a license – a need that goes beyond a general desire for self-defense.
The two men involved in the case had their applications denied, so they sued and the Supreme Court sided with them, arguing that Second Amendment of the United States Constitutionprotect the right to “keep and bear arms”.
“Limiting the right to ‘carry’ firearms in the home would nullify half of the effective Second Amendment protections,” the court’s conservative majority ruled.
The June ruling came a month after a mass shooting at a Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. The Biden administration denounced the decision, saying it was “contrary to common sense and to the Constitution.” The government continues to pursue ban on semi-automatic assault weapons.
Identifying the dark web as a state secret
A ruling in March that protected information about secret detention facilities known as “black sites,” revealed a rift within the court.
Abu Zubaydaha Palestinian born in Saudi Arabia who sought to subpoena the details of his treatment at the hands of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in a secret detention site. in Poland – treatment that the European Court of Human Rights considers “equivalent to torture”.
Zubaydah, full name Zayn Al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, was one of the first to undergo the CIA’s “investigation”.advanced interrogation techniques”, including water skiing. Intelligence agencies suspected Zubaydah was the leader of al-Qaeda and later determined he was not.
Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the majority ruling said any response to Zubaydah’s subpoena would confirm or deny the existence of a CIA facility in Poland and that admission “is within state secret privileges”.
But an unlikely pair of judges joined a completely different camp: conservative Neil Gorsuch and leftist Sonia Sotomayor.
They point out that “executive officials can sometimes be tempted to abuse national security claims to hide serious abuses and even ordinary negligence from public view.” they”. They wrote that books, movies, and official reports acknowledged the existence of the dark web.
“Although these facts may be embarrassing, there are no state secrets here,” Gorsuch said in their joint view. “The duty of this Court is to uphold the law and seek the truth. We should not let shame obscure our vision.”
Negotiating the role of government
In June, a court restricted the ability of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to curb carbon emissionssaid that the agency had exceeded its authority.
The case pits the EPA against states like coal-rich West Virginia as well as private mining and energy companies that have filed a legal petition to block a plan that sets emissions reduction targets for the power grid. .
The Supreme Court’s Conservative Majority rule that the EPA needs more than a “reasonable written basis” in the law to justify its actions. Because plans to limit emissions are a “big question,” the EPA needs “express congressional authorization” to set such limits, the court said.
In a dissenting view, Liberal Justice Elena Kagan argued that Congress routinely empowers agencies like the EPA and that, in ruling, the courts are expanding their own powers. .
Kagan wrote: “Today, the Court blocked action by a congressional authority to limit the carbon dioxide emissions of power plants. “The court appoints itself – rather than Congress or a specialized body – to make decisions on climate policy.”
As the Supreme Court looks ahead to next year, it will make more decisions that will shape the role of government. A case involving a petition from members of Legislature of North Carolinarequest that the state supreme court’s discretion be limited on election-related matters.
The court’s decision in that case could shift the balance of power in state governments for years to come.