Back in Session: Supreme Court Faces Big Agenda

The U.S. Supreme Court began its 2019-2020 term this week with several major issues and some more obscure ones on the docket. The high court will take up cases on abortion, gun rights, religion, immigration and executive power. "Unlike last term, which was relatively quiet with very few big constitutional cases, this one is shaping up to be one of the biggest terms in years," says Byron Henry, Texas attorney and Supreme Court expert.

The last term was seen largely as a mixed-bag for SCOTUS, with key rulings on a census citizenship question and gerrymandering. But this term promises decisions on more contentious issues, just as the nation heads into the 2020 election. "One of the biggest issues on the agenda is a recent case out of Louisiana regarding abortion, which seems very similar to a case that was before the court a few years ago," says Henry. That case centers on a law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The court struck down a similar law in Texas three years ago, but that was prior to the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy and the confirmation of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

Second Amendment advocates should also pay attention to SCOTUS this session. "There is a gun rights case out of the District of Columbia regarding transportation of firearms," says Henry. "This will be the Supreme Court's first opportunity to address the Second Amendment since their two monumental decisions holding that the Second Amendment provides an individual right to own a gun for self-defense."

On the more bizarre front, the high court is taking up a case out of North Carolina involving a dispute over the discovered remains of a sunken pirate ship from the 1700s.

Court observers will also keep a sharp eye on the two newest justices, Kavanaugh and Gorsuch, to see any trends or surprises in their rulings. "Not to say Justice Kavanaugh couldn't surprise us, but I'd suspect he's going to be much more predictable and fall (mostly) in line with Chief Justice John Roberts," says Henry. "Whereas Gorsuch is going to have a little more of a libertarian bent to him."

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