The conservative shift of the US Supreme Court under Donald Trump has been on full display this week with a decision seen as a severe setback to abortion rights.
How the highest US court will rule on other sensitive issues and how Democrats will respond are burning questions in Washington right now.
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– The Texas abortion ruling –
Citing only procedural arguments, the court, by a 5-4 majority, declined on Thursday to block a Texas law that effectively bans most abortions in the state.
Steven Schwinn, a law professor at the University of Illinois Chicago, said the ruling “represents a sharp right turn on the court.”
Even if the court did not address the merits of the Texas law, the decision creates an “end-run” around Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case that enshrined a woman’s right to an abortion.
Such a ruling would not have been possible a year ago, Schwinn noted, when liberal feminist icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg was still on the bench.
Ginsburg’s death in September 2020 gave Trump the opportunity to nominate his third justice to the court, cementing a 6-3 conservative majority.
Asserting their independence, the justices did reject Trump’s appeals to the court to overturn the results of the November 2020 presidential election.
But the Texas decision revealed their true conservative colors.
“The curtain has sort of been pulled,” said Tracy Thomas, director of the Center for Constitutional Law at the University of Akron in Ohio.
“Their decision-making is influenced by politics and their environments in their jurisprudence and their belief systems,” Thomas added.
– What to expect in the future? –
The Supreme Court is scheduled to consider a Mississippi law later this year that would ban an abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
“I expect that the court will sharply curtail the right to abortion under Roe v. Wade, or entirely overrule Roe v. Wade,” Schwinn said.
The court is also scheduled to hear arguments in a New York case that could restrict the ability of city or state authorities to impose gun control laws.
“Besides First Amendment and religious liberty and abortion rights, we’re also seeing justices who are active and question our entire administrative procedures,” Thomas said, adding this could impact “business issues, regulatory issues, environmental issues.”
“It crosses everything. That’s a pretty wide-reaching activism,” she said.
“It’s a conservative court… that wants to leave a legacy in the law. It’s clear that conservatives are more judicially active than we have seen in decades past.”
– How will Democrats respond? –
There have been calls for months on the Democratic left to increase the number of justices on the court in a bid to dilute the influence of the conservative faction.
President Joe Biden initially said he was not a “fan” of the idea, but he later named a bipartisan commission to study the subject of reforming the court. The commission is to submit its report before the end of the year.
Thomas said that while reform could happen, “the question is whether that’s politically savvy and politically wise.”
It could potentially lead to a scenario where each party in power puts its stamp on the court ad infinitum.
Another idea would be to limit the tenure of the justices, who currently serve for life.
“In recent years, I don’t think anyone would have really been thinking that that was a viable option,” Thomas said, although, “if there ever was a time to consider it, it’s certainly now.”
Biden issued a blistering statement after the Texas abortion decision, calling it an “insult to the rule of law” and accusing the court of unleashing “unconstitutional chaos.”
Some Democrats in Congress revived their calls for a reform of the nation’s highest court.
But any attempts to do so would meet with stiff resistance from Republicans in the Senate and Schwinn said that he did not expect any meaningful reform soon.