Skip to main content
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track on the Olympic Games
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track onthe Olympics Games
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Abortion rights activists rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on May 21, 2019.

KEVIN LAMARQUE/Reuters

The Supreme Court has placed itself back on the frontlines of the U.S. culture wars by taking up major cases on abortion and guns, with rights cherished by millions of Americans – and potentially the future of the nation’s top judicial body itself – on the line.

And to add to the drama, rulings in the two cases are expected to come next year in the run-up to mid-term elections in a politically polarized United States that will decide if President Joe Biden’s fellow Democrats maintain control over both chambers of Congress.

The conservative-majority court on Monday agreed to hear Mississippi’s bid to revive a Republican-backed state law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, a case that could undercut the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized the procedure nationwide.

Story continues below advertisement

The justices on April 26 agreed to take up a challenge backed by the National Rifle Association to New York state’s restrictions on people carrying concealed handguns in public, a case that could further damage firearms control efforts nationally.

The two cases will be argued and decided during the court’s next term, which runs from October to June 2022.

The term could be a blockbuster, with other possible cases challenging voting restrictions enacted by Republican-led states following former President Donald Trump’s false claims of a stolen election and affirmative action policies used by universities to increase admissions of Black and Hispanic students.

Wins for conservatives in the gun and abortion cases may actually help Democrats in the 2022 elections by angering and motivating liberal voters, according to some experts.

“I think the most likely outcome is that the Supreme Court will make conservative decisions in these cases, favoured by the political right, and that will create activism and enthusiasm on the left, which could affect turnout,” said Emory University political science professor Tom Clark, a specialist in Supreme Court decision-making.

A ruling overturning or weakening Roe v. Wade likely would be viewed as political by many Americans, helping Democratic candidates draw votes from political moderates and suburban women, Clark added.

“Taking something away from people is more angering than giving them something they’ve been asking for,” Clark said.

Story continues below advertisement

A Reuters/Ipsos poll of U.S. voters last year found that 76% of Democrats and 61% of independents, compared to 40% of Republicans, agreed that “abortion should be legal in most cases.”

John Malcolm, a legal scholar at the Heritage Foundation conservative think tank, said rulings in the cases are bound to prod not just liberals but conservatives as well.

“Pro-life conservatives – and there are a lot of them out there – are going to be galvanized to say, ‘Hooray, Roe v. Wade is being chipped away at, and we need to elect pro-life legislators,” Malcolm added.

PRESSURE ON BIDEN

The gun and abortion rulings could have consequences for the court itself. Biden on April 9 formed a bipartisan commission to make recommendations on potential changes to the court including expanding the number of justices beyond the current nine, a goal of some liberals eager to end its conservative majority, or ending lifetime appointments for justices. The commission is due to meet for the first time on Wednesday.

Carrie Severino, president of the Judicial Crisis Network conservative legal group, said liberal activists are trying to intimidate the court by pushing for new seats to be added.

“The court cares more about the Constitution than toeing the liberal line,” Severino added.

Story continues below advertisement

Liberal activists remain enraged that Trump was able to make three appointments to the high court, including filling one vacancy after Senate Republicans blocked consideration of a nominee put forward by Democratic former President Barack Obama in 2016. The court now has a 6-3 conservative majority.

The court’s decisions to hear the abortion and gun cases – disputes that could yield far-reaching rulings – illustrate the waning clout of Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative known for an incremental approach to changing the law, according to Chicago-Kent College of Law professor Carolyn Shapiro. When the court had a 5-4 conservative majority, Roberts was the man in the middle, often casting the decisive vote in close cases.

The September death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg enabled Trump to appoint conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, changing the court’s dynamics.

“The most significant thing is that the chief can’t stop his (conservative) colleagues, who are all further to the right than him, from making significant and explicit changes in the law,” Shapiro said.

Brian Fallon, executive director of the liberal legal advocacy group Demand Justice, said taking up the abortion and gun cases shows the conservative justices are unconcerned about the political repercussions of their actions.

“The Republican-appointed justices appear to be moving even quicker than analysts predicted to make good on their super-majority status,” Fallon said.

Story continues below advertisement

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies