New Supreme Court docket tees up more right-wing activism from the bench

The start of a new Supreme Court term isn’t something that most Americans put on their calendars. But after the last term demonstrated just how eager the court’s conservative majority is to reshape the nation in its ideological image, the new term that started Oct. 3 bears watching — with trepidation. Numerous hot-button topics are on the court’s docket this term, indicating the majority isn’t done fiddling with settled law in service to one side in the culture wars.

The court’s decision last term eliminating the constitutional right to abortion was such a thunderclap that it was easy to overlook the broader narrative: On other key ideological issues as well — separation of church and state, the federal government’s environmental authority, local gun safety laws — the newly empowered majority behaved less like unbiased arbiters of the law than Republican politicians in robes. The cases the court has agreed to hear this term indicate more of the same may be in store.


A case out of North Carolina could protect the partisan gerrymandering that has helped red state legislatures to seat Republicans in Congress beyond their actual level of public support. State courts have at times blocked that strategy. Here, plaintiffs are asking the Supreme Court to validate a fringe legal theory that says state courts don’t have jurisdiction over legislative redistricting decisions — that these fervently partisan state lawmakers should be unrestrained in their partisan mischief, in other words.

The court is also hearing an Alabama voting rights case with strong racial implications. The legislature’s gerrymandered map of its seven congressional districts created just one predominantly Black district, even though Alabama itself is more than one-quarter Black. A lower court ordered the state to create a second predominantly Black district to address that clear imbalance. The state argues that the map should be “race-blind” — as if the obvious underrepresentation of Blacks in the original map was unintentional.

Two other cases ask the court to reconsider the long-standing principle that colleges and universities can consider race in student applications as a means of creating diversity on campus. Again, the right dresses this up as an appeal to leave race out of such decisions while ignoring the real-world fact that racism is inherent in these institutions and will dominate them if it isn’t countered with diversity policies.

Some of these and other high-profile cases the court will hear this term have either been settled by long precedent or involve conflicts that haven’t yet played out in local jurisdictions. As with last term’s abortion ruling, the right-tilting court appears anxious to weigh in on culture-war issues even before its role as final arbiter is legally or logically necessary. That’s not conservatism, it’s activism. The court’s majority should consider how that looks to a nation already losing faith in this tattered institution.

— St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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