Earlier this month, the Supreme Court began its new term. On the docket for 2019 through 2020 are several paramount cases, ranging from potentially limiting women’s access to abortion to weakening the Affordable Care Act to stripping LGBTQ folks of their civil rights.
This term will be the second full term with the current group of justices following the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, who was credibly accused of sexually assaulting multiple women and lied under oath. With the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2018, who was often considered a swing vote, Kavanaugh’s confirmation means the Supreme Court is now solidly conservative.
Though Republicans scoffed at women’s fear that Kavanaugh’s confirmation meant the end of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, even calling women “hysterical,” Kavanaugh’s confirmation marked the court’s sharp ideological shift to the right and the beginning of the end for legal abortion in the United States.
In 2016, the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law that limited abortion access; however, it has now decided to hear a case about a similar Louisiana law that requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. Eager to avoid controversy and legal liability, though, local hospitals are unwilling to give abortion providers admitting privileges. Masked as concern for women’s health, given abortion is an “extremely safe” medical procedure, the law is ultimately geared toward ending abortion access without overturning Roe outright.
In another set of cases, the court will decide if workplace discrimination and firing is legally based on an employee’s gender identity or sexual orientation. The first pair of cases concern two men who were fired for being gay. The other case was brought by a transgender woman, Aimee Stephens, who was fired after telling her boss that she was deciding to embrace her gender identity and begin transitioning.
The Supreme Court will decide if the Civil Rights Act of 1964, specifically Title VII, which prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion, applies to LGBTQ people. In other words, it will decide whether or not queer people have rights. As if this wasn’t atrocious enough, the rulings could have broader impact on all workers because the case challenges protections for anyone who does not conform to gender stereotypes.
“A rule in (the Trump administration’s) favor could drastically change workplace protections for all women, whether or not they are LGBTQ, and anyone who does not conform to the administration's preferred gender norms. That could include men with long hair, women with short hair, men who are primary caretakers of children or parents, women who wear pants, women who work outside the home or are the primary breadwinners,” said journalist Ann Friedman in a recent conversation with Chase Strangio, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union and trans rights activist.
The other important cases the Supreme Court will hear involve immigration, the Affordable Care Act and the Second Amendment. One case on immigration will decide if the Trump administration can end protections for “Dreamers” in DACA, and another will decide border control policies. A case involving the ACA would allow insurance companies to receive $12 billion from the federal government as a result of Republicans voting to gut the healthcare law. Finally, another case will decide the legality of New York’s gun law limiting the distribution and transportation of firearms.
With 2020 looming, it is hard to believe the Supreme Court would hear cases on such divisive issues in an election year. And yet, here we are.
With one single vote, the Supreme Court could eliminate decades worth of progress for women and queer folks. Border patrol and gun advocates could be strengthened. The ACA could be undermined. So how did we get here?
In case you forgot or haven’t been paying attention for the last three horrifying years, we’re here because of President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. In a politically-brazen move, McConnell stole Merrick Garland’s seat on the Supreme Court in order to hold it open for a conservative justice. It is important to remember how Trump’s campaign released a list of potential conservative Supreme Court nominees during the 2016 campaign, which was at least a partially motivating factor for Trump’s voters. Then the Republicans, including disappointing votes from U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, confirmed a second man who was accussed of committing sexual abuse to the highest court in the land.
Some of the candidates in the Democratic primary have put forth ideas about how to make the Supreme Court more democratic — as in democracy, not the Democratic Party. Many candidates are open to court packing, enacting term limits for justices or impeaching Brett Kavanaugh for new sexual assault allegations. Notably, the Democratic frontrunner, former Vice President Joe Biden, does not support an impeachment of Kavanaugh.
While I understand the pushback on court packing because it enables the Republicans to do it freely in the future, we should remember that the Republicans already changed the number of justices on the Supreme Court. When McConnell refused to hold hearings for President Obama’s nominee — Chief Judge for the DC Circuit Court of Appeals Merrick Garland — he limited the Supreme Court to eight seats for more than a year.
Though Chase Strangio of the ACLU has urged people on show up and protest outside the Supreme Court chambers, there is little Democrats and progressives can do to stop the Supreme Court from stripping rights from millions of Americans at this point. Going forward, though, it is essential for Democrats to make the Supreme Court a priority at the ballot box.
Marisa Wright can be reached at email@example.com.