Supreme Court to hear arguments in major cases on abortion, guns. Here’s what to know

A protester raises an abortion flag outside the US Supreme Court as judges hear a major abortion case over the legality of a Republican-backed Louisiana law restricting abortion doctors, on Capitol Hill in Washington, US March 4, 2020.

Tom Brenner | Reuters

Abortion and guns take center stage as the Supreme Court returns to the podium in November to hear oral arguments in some of the term’s most famous cases.

On Monday, judges will hear back-to-back arguments in two cases, Whole Women’s Health v. Jackson and United States v. Texas, challenging the restrictive Texas law that bans most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy.

Two days later, the court will hear arguments in New York State Rifle and Handgun Association v. Bruen, a case focused on the Second Amendment protection of the right to bear arms in public.

The cases, which touch on two of the most vexing and polarizing topics in American politics, will be addressed by a court that has already sparked angry reactions and accusations of politicization even before it begins its final term. Experts say the court’s conservative shift during the Trump administration may be part of the reason some of these cases are heard in the first place.

Here’s what you need to know:


On Monday, the court will consider questions about the structure of Texas law, SB 8, rather than dealing with legal precedent for abortion — including Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey — that the state has been accused of violating.

United States Capitol Police stand in riot gear between women’s rights activists and an anti-abortion activist as they gather in front of the Supreme Court after a rally at Women’s Freedom Square on October 2, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Tasos Catopodis | Getty Images

SB 8 was signed by Republican Governor Greg Abbott in May, and took effect in September. The law prohibits nearly all abortions in Texas by prohibiting the procedure after the fetal heartbeat is detected, which occurs as early as the sixth week of pregnancy.

Rather than tasking state officials with enforcing the ban for six weeks, SB 8 delegates that power to private citizens, who have the power to sue anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion, for at least $10,000.

Critics describe the enforcement mechanism as a loophole designed to avoid liability and judicial review. The Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments against the law from the Department of Justice and a group of abortion providers, both of whom have filed legal challenges against officials in Texas.

Texans argued that since abortion law is not enforced by the state, they are not the ones they should defend in court. “No state executive is actually implementing [the law]Texans wrote Wednesday in a 93-page memo to the Supreme Court, “making an injunction an improper attempt to pass a law in place of a person.”

The Department of Justice wrote in its court memo that “other states are already looking at SB 8 as a model” and that “if Texas were right, no decision from this court would be safe.”

On December 1, judges are set to hear arguments in another case, Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women’s Health Organization, directly targeting rulings that have upheld abortion rights for decades.

Court watchers following Monday via live audio broadcasts – a new kind of coronavirus pandemic – will listen closely for hints about how certain justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, will deal with Roe and Casey in this case and others in the near future. .

“I think everyone will be watching the Chief Justice very closely,” said Jaime Santos, partner in the Supreme Court and appellate litigation practice at Goodwin Law Firm.

Among conservative justices, Santos said, he is more inclined to protect the principles of staring” — adhering to precedent in similar cases — “and most concerned about public perceptions of the court as a fair and independent body.”

The oral arguments on the Texas law come less than two weeks after the court approved the two cases on a very fast schedule. Thomas Cook, a professor of business law at Georgetown University, told CNBC that the missile case’s proceedings can also result in judges issuing rulings much faster than if the cases were moving at normal speed.

Pro-choice activists march in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, US, on Monday, October 4, 2021.

Stephanie Reynolds | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Abortion rights advocates and providers in Texas asked the Supreme Court in late August to temporarily ban SB 8 before it went into effect September 1 at midnight. But the court did not respond until hours after the law took effect.

In a late-night ruling, a slim majority of five judges — including three appointed by former President Donald Trump — voted to reject the lawyers’ emergency request, largely on procedural grounds. Roberts sided with the three Liberals on the court, writing in dissent that “the legal scheme before the Court is not only extraordinary, but unprecedented.”

As a result of the 5-4 ruling, abortion providers say, hundreds of patients in Texas were denied care, while clinics in neighboring states were overcrowded.

Critics, including President Joe Biden, outraged. The Supreme Court’s approval rating has fallen to a new low, and calls for Supreme Court reform – already a subject of study in the Biden administration – have grown louder.

In quick succession, several judges, including Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Amy Connie Barrett, spoke in defense of the court. “This court is not made up of a bunch of partisan hackers,” Barrett reportedly said in September.

That same month, abortion providers whose application was rejected submitted another petition to the Supreme Court. This time, they asked the judges to quickly consider their case to challenge the law, although litigation in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is still pending.

Separately, the Department of Justice sued Texas in federal court, winning an injunction that was then suspended by the Court of Appeals. The agency then went to the Supreme Court, asking it to block Texas law by overturning the lower court’s decision to reinstate the abortion ban.

The Supreme Court agreed in late October to hear both cases on the expedited schedule.

Two other cases originally scheduled for discussion on November 1, Ramirez v. Collier and Shane v. Ramirez, were rescheduled for later in the semester.


Wednesday’s arguments center around a century-old New York law, which requires some applicants to demonstrate “appropriate cause” to obtain licenses to carry a concealed handgun in public.

Tom King, President of the New York State Rifle and Revolver Association (NYSRPA), and a competitor in a US Supreme Court case regarding the right to carry handguns in public, at the NYSRPA office in East Greenbush, New York, US October 20, 2021.

Cindy Schultz | Reuters

The case before the Supreme Court stems from a lawsuit filed in 2018 by the New York State Rifle and Handgun Association, Robert Nash and Brandon Koch.

Nash and Koch are New Yorkers whose requests to carry a gun in public were denied on self-defense grounds. The licensing officer who rejected their applications said they “did not show a particular need for distinct self-defense.” [them] of the common people.”

The petition to the Supreme Court to review the case argues that a lower court’s ruling upholding New York law was “inadmissible.”

In a briefing in July, the petitioners argued that the language of the Second Amendment — which guarantees “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” — refers to two separate rights. They argued that “keeping” weapons meant being able to have them, while “carrying” weapons meant being able to carry them.

New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, had argued in February that the Supreme Court should not consider the case.

“The law is consistent with the historical scope of the Second Amendment and directly advances New York’s compelling interests in public safety and crime prevention,” James wrote.

The most recent major Supreme Court rulings on guns came more than a decade ago in District of Columbia v. Heller, when the court held that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to bear a gun for self-defense within the home.

Last year, the court refused to issue a substantive ruling in another case over gun regulations in New York, which has some of the strictest rules in the country. Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s second appointee, urged his colleagues to hear another Second Amendment case “soon.”


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