The month of June at the Supreme Court — when the justices tend to announce their biggest decisions — has had a similar rhythm over the past few decades. There is usually an ideologically complicated mix of decisions, with some pleasing the political right (on voting rights and business regulation, for example) and others pleasing the left (on health care and L.G.B.T. rights).
This month, however, looks as if it might be different. “The right may well run the table on the big cases,” Adam Liptak, a former lawyer who covers the court for The Times, told me.
The five most closely watched cases include one each on abortion, gun control and climate regulation and two on religion. All five decisions are likely to be announced this month (unless the court extends its term into early July). Based on the justices’ questions during the oral arguments in each case, conservative rulings appear likely.
Individual surprises are always possible, Adam emphasizes. But the court does seem to be shifting to the right. In the past four years, Anthony Kennedy — a conservative justice who nonetheless joined liberals on some major decisions — has been replaced by the more conservative Brett Kavanaugh. And Ruth Bader Ginsburg — a liberal icon — has been replaced by Amy Coney Barrett, who may be even more conservative than Kavanaugh.
The result seems to be a new era for the court. It now has six Republican appointees, and only one of them — Chief Justice John Roberts — evidently prefers a cautious approach. The remaining five form what Adam calls “an impatient, ambitious majority,” eager to shape American law as they believe it should be shaped, even when it means overturning longstanding court precedent or rejecting policies passed by Congress or state legislatures.
Today’s newsletter offers a preview of the term’s end, with Adam’s help.
The case dominating public attention involves Mississippi’s ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Last month, Politico reported that five justices — all the Republican appointees save Roberts — had tentatively voted not only to allow Mississippi’s ban but to go even further and overturn Roe v. Wade, allowing full abortion bans.
Adam said he thought that outcome remained the most likely one. But it’s also plausible that Roberts will join the ruling as a sixth vote even though he did not sign onto the earlier draft. Given the intense reaction that’s sure to follow, Roberts may prefer that the case not be decided by a single vote.
Alternately, one of the other five conservatives could defect and join Roberts in a narrower ruling that allowed Mississippi’s ban without overturning Roe. Such a decision would leave many conservatives feeling disappointed about this term, regardless of the result in other cases, given the expectations that Politico’s story created.
(Here is The Morning’s recent guide to what a post-Roe America might look like.)
Fourteen years ago, the Supreme Court threw out a Washington, D.C., law that heavily regulated how people could keep guns in their homes. Now, the court is considering whether to throw out a New York State law that restricts people’s ability to carry guns in public.
New York requires people to demonstrate that they have a specific need to carry a handgun in public. During the recent oral arguments in a case challenging that law, the conservative justices’ questions suggested they were likely to overturn the law and rule that it violated the Second Amendment.
If they do, the ruling could also invalidate similar laws in a handful of other states, including California, Maryland and Massachusetts.
Law enforcement officials in New York are concerned that the end of the law could lead to an increase in crime, my colleague Jonah Bromwich explains. “There is also the atmospheric oddity of the court weighing in on guns rights at a time when the country is traumatized by gun violence,” Adam says, referring to recent mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas.
A central question about the newly conservative Supreme Court is how aggressively it will restrict federal agencies from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.
A case this term — West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency — suggests that the justices may choose to be aggressive. The details are complex, but the result could be a ruling that limits the E.P.A.’s ability to enact regulations that apply to multiple power plants, rather than individually regulating each one.
The broader area of law here is known as administrative law, and it has been a top priority of the Federalist Society, an influential conservative group that has helped mentor and vet judges. Federalist Society members often argue that government agencies should not be permitted to impose regulations that Congress has not specifically enacted. “The view is that Congress should be making the laws and not unelected bureaucrats,” as Adam says.
Opponents counter that Congress cannot envision every scenario when passing laws and that regulators need the flexibility to protect citizens from harms — like pollution.
The court’s new majority has already shown a strong desire to protect religious freedom. That position seems likely to manifest itself in two new decisions this month.
One deals with a challenge to a Maine law that allows rural residents who live from far any public school to attend a private school — but not a religious private school — using taxpayer dollars. The other deals with a former high school football coach near Seattle who lost his job after praying on the 50-yard line at the end of his team’s games; he argued that doing so was a matter of religious freedom, while the school district contended that he was effectively pressuring team members into participating.
When the interests of governments and religious groups conflict, this court tends to side with the religious groups.
And the rest
The court is also expected to issue rulings in about 25 other cases in coming weeks. Many of those are less ideological or lower profile, and some will likely not result in major conservative victories.
But the term after this one — starting in the fall — seems to be shaping up as another conservative term, with the court already having agreed to hear cases on affirmative action, voting rights and a clash between religious freedom and L.G.B.T. rights. The justices may also choose to add to its docket the “800-pound gorilla” of election oversight cases, as Adam recently explained.
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Time for ice cream
To celebrate summer, the Times critic Tejal Rao went searching for the best frozen-treat spots around Los Angeles. She found mangoneada (mango sorbet, drizzled with chamoy and chile-lime salt); a twist on the Filipino dessert halo halo; Korean-style shave ice; and classic scoops on a cone.