Unlike the rest of Washington, D.C., which is still shut down, the Supreme Court returned in full force to the bench on Oct. 7. The Justices’ docket is filled with highly controversial cases that touch on key social and electoral issues including abortion, contraception and campaign funding. The conservative majority on the bench of the highest federal appellate court in the United States has presented itself with an opportunity to undermine firmly established legal precedents. The cases which they have chosen to hear — and the controversial issues within these cases — insinuate political tact in the advancement of partisan goals.
Like most other aspects of the Affordable Care Act, the contraception mandate is also being heard by the Supreme Court. The court will rule on the constitutionality of a provision in the law that requires large firms to provide contraception in employee health plans. The hostile Tea Party caucus in the House of Representatives cited this provision as a reason to shut down the government. In a continuing resolution, they demanded an objection of conscience for employers.
The Supreme Court will also hear two cases pertaining to abortion. One of them, Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, threatens to limit the use of abortion-inducing pills. The other, McCullen v. Coakley, concerns buffer zones for protesters outside reproductive clinics. While neither case directly implicates the imperative features of the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973, they do begin to erode the prohibition of undue burden on women’s access to abortion.
The Supreme Court will also rule on McCutcheon v. FEC — a challenge to the aggregate direct campaign contribution limits in place since the Watergate scandal that safeguard elections against potential corruption. Without aggregate spending limits in place, direct contributions will inevitably return and force candidates to rely on a tiny group of wealthy donors to bankroll their campaigns. If McCutcheon were to be approved by the court, it would be damaging to the state of campaign financing.
The last judicial term ended on a high note for liberals when the court affirmed the constitutionality of gay marriage twice. Now, with the justices back at the bench and existing legislation in jeopardy, the future looks less rosy. In the coming months, the justices will be ruling on extremely controversial cases that could have a damaging effect depending on the decision. Reverence for established legal precedent must supersede factional politics.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Oct. 8 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at edit [email protected]