The Supreme Court is beginning its new term, welcoming the public back to the courtroom and hearing arguments for the first time since issuing a landmark ruling stripping away women’s constitutional protections for abortion.
Monday's session also is the first time new Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the court's first Black female justice, will participate in arguments. And the public is back for the first time since the court closed in March 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The court’s overturning of the nearly 50-year-old Roe v. Wade abortion decision is still reverberating in legal fights over state abortion bans and other restrictions. But a new stack of high-profile cases awaits the justices. Several cases the court has agreed to hear involve race or elections or both, and the court has also agreed to hear a dispute that returns the issue of free speech and LGBTQ rights to the court.
Also hanging over the justices is some unfinished business from last term: the leak of a draft of the abortion decision seven weeks before it was formally announced. Chief Justice John Roberts ordered an investigation, but the court has yet to provide an update.
Jackson, for her part, has been waiting for months to fully begin her new role since being confirmed in April. She was sworn in when Justice Stephen Breyer retired in June, at the end of a term where the court dominated 6-3 by conservatives also expanded gun rights, reined in the government’s ability to fight climate change and blocked a Biden administration effort to get workers at large companies vaccinated against COVID-19. Breyer, a liberal, was on the losing side of those cases, and Jackson is also expected to be in dissent in many of the court's most prominent cases.
Since she was sworn in, however, the court has largely been on a summer break. The justices met privately last week to consider a long list of appeals that piled up over the summer. On Friday, the justices took the bench for a brief ceremony in which Roberts wished Jackson a “long and happy career in our common calling,” the traditional welcome for a new justice.
But Jackson also joins the court at a time of declining public support for the court. Polls following the court's abortion decision have shown a sharp drop in the court’s approval rating and in people’s confidence in the court as an institution. A poll over the summer found 43% of Americans saying they have hardly any confidence in the court, up from 27% earlier in the year.
On Monday, the court is considering an important water rights case that could limit federal regulation under the nation’s main water pollution law, the Clean Water Act.
Other significant cases include a controversial Republican-led appeal that could dramatically change the way elections for Congress and the presidency are conducted by handing more power to state legislatures. There's also the case of a Colorado website designer who says her religious beliefs prevent her working with same-sex couples on their weddings. Next month, the justices will hear a challenge to the consideration of race in college admissions.