Supreme Court Opens New Term, Will Hear Cases on Abortion and Second Amendment

Court rejects many appeals beforehand, including effort to give DC a voting member of Congress
By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news and stories relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is based in Maryland.
October 4, 2021 Updated: October 4, 2021

The Supreme Court on Oct. 4 opened a new term that’s filled with crucial cases on how much access to abortion can be restricted and whether New York state infringed on the Second Amendment.

Chief Justice John Roberts opened the term by noting that Justice Brett Kavanaugh was participating remotely. Kavanaugh tested positive for COVID-19 last week, although a court spokeswoman said his family members all tested negative and that he was showing no symptoms.

Oct. 1 was the first time the justices convened in person since arguments went remote during the pandemic.

Two cases were scheduled to be heard before justices headed home for the evening.

One deals with a challenge filed against Tennessee by Mississippi concerning the former allegedly pumping out groundwater from an aquifer beneath the latter’s territory. Mississippi is seeking more than $600 million in damages.

The other concerns the entry into a man’s home by a law enforcement officer who didn’t identify himself. Lawyers for the man say the entry violated the man’s constitutional rights.

Later this term, justices will listen as parties argue whether Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban is legal. Opponents say it’s not legal under the precedent set by Roe v. Wade, while supporters say that decision was wrongly decided and hope the Supreme Court overturns it.

“Roe has been on shaky ground since the day it was decided. Even eminent liberal pro-choice scholars said that Roe has no basis in the Constitution itself,” John Malcolm, vice president of the Institute for Constitutional Government for the Heritage Foundation, said on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.”

Another high-profile case regards New York state’s law that applicants for pistol permits must prove “proper cause” to carry a gun, a requirement that opponents say violates the Second Amendment.

“If ever ‘blockbuster term’ was appropriate, this term is definitely going to be an enormous term when it comes to cases of great significance for the country. We have abortion rights, gun laws, issues related to religious instruction in schools,” Elizabeth Wydra, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, said on C-SPAN.

Court Rejects Some Cases Before Term Opens

Justices got together for a private conference last week to decide on hearing or outright rejecting a number of cases. Just before the new term opened, a 66-page document was released (pdf) outlining their decisions. They denied many of the appeals.

One notable denial: a case that saw District of Columbia residents try to get a voting member of Congress. Right now, Washington only has a non-voting delegate.

The plaintiffs, a group of 11 residents, were rejected by an appeals court panel last year that noted that the Constitution says the House of Representatives members must be picked by people in states. The district is not a state, the judges noted.

Another denial concerns a New York state law that taxes opioid manufactures and companies that distribute the drugs. Two trade groups tried challenging the law but ultimately failed.

Justices also denied petitions from convicted criminals on death row.

The only written opinions concerned two of the denials.

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that he continues to believe that “excessive delay” in carrying out an execution undermines the death penalty’s penological rationale. The inmate in question, Carl Wayne Buntion, was convicted of capital murder in Texas and sentenced to death in 1991 and resentenced in 2012. He has reportedly spent the last 20 years in solitary confinement.

“His lengthy confinement, and the confinement of others like him, calls into question the constitutionality of the death penalty and reinforces the need for this Court, or other courts, to consider that question in an appropriate case,” Breyer wrote.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor took issue with another denial, of a petition from capital murderer Mickey Thomas. She said Thomas, who argued he had ineffective counsel, should have been granted relief by a lower court. However, she said the Supreme Court denial was proper.

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news and stories relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is based in Maryland.