Supreme Court to deliver on ‘culture war’ issues in much-watched cases this month

The Supreme Court is expected in coming weeks to hand down rulings on abortion, gun rights and religious liberty that will likely roil the nation’s culture war and cap a judicial term that court watchers say has been anything but humdrum.

“Abortion and guns are the biggest cases because those are the biggest culture war issues on the docket this term,” said Ilya Shapiro, executive director of the Center for the Constitution and a senior law lecturer at the Georgetown University Law Center. “This term will likely be the one where President [Donald] Trump’s three nominees make their collective mark.”

Drawing the most attention is the investigation into who leaked a draft opinion last month that suggests the justices will overturn national abortion rights. The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, focuses on Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

The justices are weighing if states can ban pre-viability abortions and whether to overrule Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling giving women a national right to an abortion up until viability. In 1973, viability was determined to be around 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy.

“Given the centrality of Roe v Wade to our legal and political debates of the past half-century, and the unprecedented leak of the Dobbs draft, this term will long be remembered,” Mr. Shapiro said.

In the leaked draft opinion, dated in February, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said abortion laws should return to the state legislatures.

“The Constitution makes no reference to abortion,” Justice Alito wrote in the opinion, which was published by Politico. “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start.”

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said the draft opinion was authentic but noted that it did not represent a final ruling. He ordered the court’s marshal to investigate who leaked the document.

Dobbs is just one of more than 30 cases the justices will decide during June. The court typically wraps up its term by July 1 for a summer recess.

“The Dobbs case is getting the lion’s share of attention from media and talking heads. But the Court has other major cases on its docket this term and we are expecting potentially major opinions concerning the Second Amendment, separation of powers, and religious liberty,” said Carrie Severino, president of the Judicial Crisis Network.

Gun rights

The court is expected to rule on Second Amendment rights in a dispute over carrying a firearm in the Empire State in the case of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc v. Bruen.

The justices reviewed New York’s policy for granting a carry license after two applicants and the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association challenged the state’s law requiring anyone who wants to carry a handgun outside the home to apply for a license and show “proper cause” for the need to carry the weapon.

Robert Nash applied for a license, citing a string of robberies in his neighborhood and verifying that he had taken an “advanced firearm training course.” Brendan Koch also applied for a license, noting his “extensive experience” with handling firearms in a safe manner.

New York officials denied both men a license, saying they did not show a “proper cause” for carrying a gun in self-defense.

The men and the gun-rights group argue that courts have split rulings over a state’s discretion in denying the right to keep and bear arms outside the house.

Religious liberty, parental rights

In Joseph Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, the justices will weigh First Amendment rights against the Establishment Clause in a dispute over a high school coach who lost his job over not being able to pray on the 50-yard-line. He took his First Amendment fight to the high court.

Joseph Kennedy, who coached high school football at Washington’s Bremerton School District for about eight years, would pray on the 50-yard line after games. Sometimes he was joined by players; other times he was not. The prayers lasted 15 to 30 seconds.

Mr. Kennedy said he did not coerce students to join him. But once school officials learned of the prayer — seven years after he had begun his routine — lawyers intervened and the coach eventually lost his job.

And in Carson v. Makin, the justices will weigh the legality of a school voucher program in Maine and decide if students can use the state funds to attend private religious schools. Maine currently allows only nonsectarian schools as part of the program.

“Education and parental rights are increasingly hot political issues and will continue to resonate through this fall’s elections,” said Mr. Shapiro.

Federal regulation

Legal scholars are also watching an administrative law case involving the federal government’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

In West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, the court is reviewing the Trump administration’s undoing of the Clean Power Plan, which in 2015 handed down guidelines to states in regulating emissions from power plants.

No opinions are expected to be released this week, making a busy final four weeks of June with roughly 33 cases still left to be decided.

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