WASHINGTON, D.C. — The nation’s highest court is back in session with another round of high-profile cases.
This is also the first term with Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman on the bench.
During this term, Supreme Court justices will hear challenges that involve race or elections and, in some cases, the cross section of both,
On Monday, the court kicked off the term with a case that could limit federal regulation under the Clean Water Act.
“Because this case is going to be important for wetlands throughout the country and we have to get it right” said Justice Brett Kavanaugh during oral arguments.
“But I didn’t see that as Congress’ primary objective or even you know a main objective with respects to the Clean Water Act,” questioned Justice Jackson.
This term Justices will take up affirmative action in college admissions. The case centers around a pair of lawsuits against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina which alleges the schools discriminate against Asian American applicants.
“The plaintiffs in these cases are trying to knock out all forms of affirmative action. Their position is that diversity in higher education is not a sufficient goal,” said Alan Morrison, Dean of Public Interest at George Washington Law School.
Another set of cases consider race and voting access. In one case, Merrill v. Milligan various groups argue that Alabama violated the federal Voting Rights Act when the state didn’t create a second district where African American voters made up the majority.
“The court took this case because Alabama said, well, even though this is an action under the Voting Rights Act, which was intended to increase the voting for African Americans - as was the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, which outlawed discrimination in any form and voting, that you still can’t take race into account, and that the court improperly put race into account when deciding whether the redistricting was proper,” said Morrison. “If that argument is accepted, it has the potential for undermining the entire voting rights act, even more than the Supreme Court has already undermined it.”
The court is also tackling free speech and LGBTQ rights. This case involves a Colorado web designer who says her religious beliefs prevent her from offering wedding websites to gay couples. Initially, the plaintiff argued this violated her freedom of religion and free speech. Morrison said the high court struck the freedom of religion aspect of this case, and now the case will focus on free speech.
“Her argument is that she’s being forced to say things about gays getting married that she doesn’t want to say,” said Morrison. “Even though the court struck out the religion part, it’s actually much broader because it will allow anybody for any reason who doesn’t want to do a gay website for marriage, to be able to do that, regardless of whether they have a religious basis for that position at all.”
Legal experts say the redistricting cases heard this term won’t impact the upcoming midterm elections. But they say those decisions will affect the voting process in 2024.