The Supreme Court is returning to a new term to take up some familiar topics — guns and abortion — and concerns about ethics swirling around the justices.
The year also will have a heavy focus on social media and how free speech protections apply online. A big unknown is whether the court will be asked to weigh in on any aspect of the criminal cases against former President Donald Trump and others or efforts in some states to keep the Republican off the 2024 presidential ballot because of his role in trying to overturn the results of the 2020 election that he lost to Democrat Joe Biden.
Lower-profile but vitally important, several cases in the term that begins Monday ask the justices to constrict the power of regulatory agencies.
One of those cases, to be argued Tuesday, threatens the ability of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to function. Unlike most agencies, the bureau is not dependent on annual appropriations from Congress, but instead gets its funding directly from the Federal Reserve. The idea when the agency was created following the recession in 2007-08 was to shield it from politics.
But the federal appeals court in New Orleans struck down the funding mechanism. The ruling would cause “profound disruption by calling into question virtually every action the CFPB has taken” since its creation, the Biden administration said in a court filing.
The same federal appeals court also produced the ruling that struck down a federal law that aims to keep guns away from people facing domestic violence restraining orders from having firearms.
The abortion case likely to be heard by the justices also would be the court’s first word on the topic since it reversed Roe v. Wade’s right to abortion. The new case stems from a ruling, also by the 5th Circuit, to limit the availability of mifepristone, a medication used in the most common method of abortion in the United States.
The administration already won an order from the high court blocking the appellate ruling while the case continues. The justices could decide later in the fall to take up the mifepristone case this term.
The assortment of cases from the 5th Circuit could offer Chief Justice John Roberts more opportunities to forge alliances in major cases that cross ideological lines. In those cases, the conservative-dominated appeals court, which includes six Trump appointees, took aggressive legal positions, said Irv Gornstein, executive director of the Georgetown law school’s Supreme Court Institute.
“The 5th Circuit is ready to adopt the politically most conservative position on almost any issue, no matter how implausible or how much defiling of precedent it takes,” Gornstein said.
The three Supreme Court justices appointed by Trump — Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — have been together in the majority of the some of the biggest cases in the past two years, including on guns, abortion and ending affirmative action in college admissions.
But in some important cases last term, the court split in unusual ways. In the most notable of those, Kavanaugh joined with Roberts and the court’s three liberal justices to rule that Alabama had not done enough to reflect the political power of Black voters in its congressional redistricting.
Roberts, Kavanaugh, this time joined by Barrett, also were in the majority with the liberal justices in a case that rejected a conservative legal effort to cut out state courts from oversight of elections for Congress and president.
Those outcomes have yet to do much to ameliorate the court’s image in the public’s mind. The most recent Gallup Poll, released last week, found Americans’ approval of and trust in the court hovering near record lows.