It’s wise to remember that you can’t believe everything you hear during a presidential campaign. However, when opposing candidates tell voters the next president’s appointees to the Supreme Court could shape the law for a generation, that can turn out to be true.
Over the course of the Supreme Court term that began this week, the justices will hear cases that could have a significant impact on the right to bear arms and on the power of states to restrict access to legal abortion, as well as many other important and controversial issues.
The abortion case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, is a challenge to a 2018 Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The law conflicts with the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which barred states from making abortion illegal before fetal viability, about 23 or 24 weeks.
Following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett to succeed her, the court may have a five-vote majority to overturn Roe v. Wade. Chief Justice John Roberts, generally counted as a conservative, voted with the court’s liberal wing in a recent 5-4 ruling that declined to block a Texas abortion law from going into effect.
But it’s impossible to be certain how any justice will vote on any particular case. President Dwight Eisenhower was reported to have said, after he left the White House, “I have made two mistakes, and they are both sitting on the Supreme Court.” Historians dispute whether he said it, but not the underlying fact that Supreme Court justices, once confirmed, are not bound by views previously expressed.
The court will hear oral arguments in the Mississippi case on December 1. The public will be able to listen to live audio of the arguments, a pandemic-era accommodation that the court has decided to continue.
On November 3, the justices will hear a Second Amendment case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, that could determine whether states have the power to impose strict limits on carrying guns outside the home. The court ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to own a gun, shutting down the argument that the Constitution protects the right to own a firearm only in connection with service in a militia. However, the court turned away all subsequent cases related to the right to “bear” arms outside the home until Justice Barrett joined the court.
During this term, the justices will also hear a case from Maine on the question of whether a state may exclude a religious school that also provides secular education from a state tuition program, or whether that exclusion violates the religion clauses and the equal protection clause of the Constitution. Oral arguments in the case of Carson v. Makin are scheduled for December 8.
President Donald Trump’s three appointees to the court — Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — are considered likely to vote with longtime conservative Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, creating a conservative majority that could shape the interpretation of the nation’s Constitution and laws for many years to come.
So you see, not everything that’s said during a campaign is untrue.