New SCOTUS Term Puts Conservative Majority in Spotlight for Gay Rights, Voting, Affirmative Action Cases

The United States Supreme Court just began its new term with justices deciding cases on free speech, affirmative action, religion, gay rights, and voting with nine justices on the bench — the majority of them conservative.

“Get ready for a lot of 6-3s,” predicted Irv Gornstein, executive director of the Supreme Court Institute at Georgetown Law. According to a New York Times report, many of the most significant cases concern race in settings including voting, adoptions, and education. They include challenges to admissions programs at the University of North Carolina and Harvard that could end 40 years of affirmative action precedents.

Preview of upcoming cases

Voting Rights

According to the Times report, the race will be center stage in a voting rights case to be argued. Merrill v. Milligan is a challenge to the Alabama electoral map under the Voting Rights Act. A lower court had ruled the electoral map had diluted the power of Black voters.

Another case that could significantly affect federal elections by increasing the power of state legislatures to set voting rules and draw voting districts, Moore v. Harper, does not yet have a date set for arguments.

Federal Regulation

According to the Associated Press, the SCOTUS is also considering a critical water rights case that could limit federal regulation under the Clean Water Act, the nation’s primary water pollution law.

Affirmative Action

Two cases involving education — Students for Fair Admissions v. the University of North Carolina and Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard are set for argument on October 31.

A landmark culture war case, 303 Creative LLC v. Ellen’s, does not yet have a set hearing date but concerns whether some public businesses can refuse to provide customer services based on convictions or religion.

Gay Rights

Lorie Smith, a website design company owner who says her business serves gay customers but intends to limit any wedding-related services to heterosexual union celebrations, argues that requiring her to provide services to lesbian and gay couples violates her right to free speech.

The SCOTUS last took the issue under consideration in 2018 in a disagreement between a gay couple and a Colorado bakery. However, the justices failed to issue a definitive ruling.

Native-American Adoption

On November 9, the court will hear arguments against the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, which makes it difficult for non-Native Americans to adopt Native children.

In the case Harland v. Bracken, the law at issue may be decided on whether the court views safeguards as being based on race, which makes them vulnerable to review on their constitutionality.

The court’s new term comes at a time of a steep slide in approval ratings. A recent Gallup poll showed that 58% of Americans disapprove of the job the SCOTUS is doing. Respondents were split along party lines, with Republicans generally approving of the federal judiciary and the highest court.