Surprise Supreme Court rulings suggest judges have an eye on reputation

The Supreme Court’s term ended last week with rulings reversing President Biden’s student debt relief plan and affirmative action in college admissions programs, findings that reaffirmed the conservative leanings of the High Court.

The court returned several unexpected findings this warrant that suggested it might be more nuanced than it appears, but Supreme Court watchers say those findings are less indicative of a moderating court than a court. aware of his declining public reputation.

“It will always be an aggressively right-wing court, but maybe there are limits that the court will impose on itself because it is – and I would say the chief justice in particular is – worried about its own reputation. and stand with the public,” said George Washington University Law professor Mary Cheh.

A Quinnipiac University poll last month found 30% of registered voters approved of the Supreme Court, while 59% disapproved – the High Court’s lowest approval rating since Quinnipiac began asking the issue in 2004.

“I think they’ve cut their veils in some cases,” said Georgetown Law University professor Josh Chafetz, who he says allows the court “to at least say that, ‘Hey, we let’s not just do conservative politics here.’ ”

Here are four surprise decisions the Supreme Court handed down this term.

Drawing Legislative Lines

The Supreme Court has refused to endorse the so-called ‘independent state legislature’ theory by rejecting a bid by GOP lawmakers that would have given state governments sweeping power to draw maps of Congress and regulate federal elections .

The High Court ruled 6-3 that state courts can review federal election rules enacted by state legislatures and hear partisan gerrymandering lawsuits related to congressional redistricting.

Chief Justice John Roberts and two other conservative justices were joined by the court’s three liberal justices in a majority, a victory for Democrats.

The independent state legislature theory claims that state legislatures hold exclusive authority over federal election regulations. North Carolina Republican lawmakers who put forward the theory pointed to part of the Election Clause of the U.S. Constitution which states that the “times, places, and manners” of federal elections are to be decided by state legislators.

Legal experts have expressed surprise that the High Court has agreed to hear the case given its unorthodox nature.

“It’s always been a fringe theory and probably should have been dropped before,” Cheh said.

Joey Fishkin, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), said the court’s choice to decide the case was likely a preemptive measure as the United States races towards the 2024 election.

“I think what the court was trying to do here was close the door on John Eastman-type arguments for the next time,” Fishkin said, referring to Trump’s lawyer who tried to overturn the election in Washington. 2020 with new legal theory.

Alabama Congress Map

A tight coalition of liberal Supreme Court justices and two conservative justices — Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh — ruled that a map of Congress drawn by the Alabama GOP likely violated the Voting Rights Act (VRA ) by weakening the power of black voters, giving voting rights defenders a 5-4 victory.

The court was widely expected to use the Alabama case to curtail the section of the Voting Rights Act that prohibits voting practices that result in racial discrimination.

Chafetz said the court’s decision in Allen v. Milligan was a double surprise.

“First, because in election law cases, these judges have generally ruled in a way that they believe will help Republicans, and that outcome clearly favors Democrats,” Chafetz said. “And second, because Republicans on the Court — and particularly John Roberts, who wrote the majority opinion — have been almost uniformly hostile to the Voting Rights Act thus far.”

“To have a case that leaves the VRA where they found it, and especially in an opinion of Roberts, is really striking,” he added.

The right to manage immigration and deportations

The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 last month that states challenging the Biden administration’s guidelines for deporting migrants from the country lacked the power to do so.

Texas and Louisiana challenged a Department of Homeland Security policy that directed Immigration and Customs Enforcement to prioritize certain immigrants for detention and deportation. The policy tells officers to focus on serious crimes and aims to reduce policing in immigrant communities.

“Combating federal immigration regulations has always been overdone, and the court’s rejection of that argument, I think, simply suggests that the court is adhering to the long-held understanding of immigration law as something something that is rightly within the authority of the federal government,” said Adam Winkler, a professor at UCLA Law School.

But the court’s decision also raised questions about how he will approach presidential powers in the future, Cheh said. She compared the immigration outcome to the court’s decision to block Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, which would have canceled up to $10,000 for most borrowers and $20,000 for Pell recipients. Grant.

“There is something going on with the court in terms of how they want to preserve presidential authority,” Cheh said.

Tribal Guard Procedure

In Haaland v. Brackeen, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 to preserve a long-standing federal law intended to keep Native American children with their families and tribes during custody proceedings.

Enacted in 1978, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) imposed minimum standards for separating indigenous children from their families and tribes and established default preferences for their adoption and foster care.

Three white couples argued in the Supreme Court that ICWA exceeded the constitutional authority of Congress — and even though Congress had that authority, the default preferences set by law discriminated against them.

The high court ruled that the ICWA did not exceed the constitutional authority of Congress. He also determined that the challengers lacked the legal standing to argue that the provision is unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection.

“The court was so hostile to any kind of race-based decision-making by the government that some thought Indian child welfare law was on a level playing field before this court,” Winkler said. . “So it’s quite surprising that the Court dismissed that challenge.”

Winkler added that Haaland v. Brackeen is another example of a case that Supreme Court watchers were surprised the court took on.

“The arguments against the Indian Child Welfare Act were unimaginable 10 or 15 years ago,” he added. “No one would have brought this case if the Supreme Court hadn’t veered so far to the right in recent years.”

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