WASHINGTON — The new Supreme Court term will have a major impact on President Trump’s policies and legacy, as the justices take up a series of potentially blockbuster cases.
“There’s only one prediction that is entirely safe about the upcoming term, and that is: it will be momentous,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told students at a Georgetown Law Center event Thursday.
But the term, set to begin a week from today, also starts with some uncertainty over one of the biggest cases before the court: a challenge to Trump’s travel ban, which opponents claim is an unconstitutional attempt to bar Muslims from entering the country.
Yesterday, Trump issued a third version of the order — adding restrictions on nationals from Venezuela, North Korea and Chad and dropping Sudan from the original six majority-Muslim nations subject to the prior ban, which expired at midnight.
It’s unclear how the changes, which go into effect Oct. 18, could affect the Supreme Court case which is set for argument on Oct. 10.
“It’s possible they could hear it and then choose not to” decide it if they deem the case moot, said Anil Kalhan, professor at Drexel University School of Law. “The court has, over a long period of time, looked for ways to avoid engaging in constitutional questions.”
Trump appointee Justice Neil Gorsuch, an outspoken defender of religious freedom in his past court opinions, books and articles, could play a crucial role in a case considering whether store owners’ religious objection to same-sex marriage trumps state laws prohibiting them from refusing service based on sexual orientation.
The First Amendment challenge, brought by owners of a Colorado bakery who object to making a cake for a same-sex wedding, forces the justice to consider “whether cake speaks,” said Martin Lederman, professor at Georgetown Law Center.
“There might be a majority of justices who want to find a constitutional claim” for the bakery owners, said Lederman, “but it’s going to be hard to do so.”
The court will also decide whether state legislatures can draw election districts in a way that protects the power of a political party, a ruling that could have a major impact on the midterm elections.
“This case tries to take up that challenge and articulate a manageable standard for assessing when partisanship in the restricting process goes beyond sort of the ordinary injection of politics into redistricting and becomes so excessive as to become unconstitutional,” Dale Ho, ACLU voting rights project director, said at a Supreme Court preview event hosted by the American Constitution Society.
In a case that could have a major impact on American’s electronic privacy rights, the court will decide whether obtaining cellphone location data from a service provider constitutes a search and requires a warrant.
The court made the unusual move of taking up the case despite the fact that lower courts have agreed that such data does not require a warrant “suggests that the court is pretty concerned about this issue,” said Erin Murphy, a Supreme Court litigator in the Washington office of the firm Kirkland & Ellis.
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