NotedDC

NotedDC — Supreme Court gears up for ‘blockbuster’ term

Ketanji Brown Jackson
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson smiles following her formal investiture ceremony at the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, Sept. 30, 2022.

The Supreme Court started a new term this week, and already experts are expecting it to be a big one as the justices settle in and work through personality differences.

“We’re going to see a big blockbuster term,” Alan B. Morrison, an associate dean at George Washington University Law School, told NotedDC.

New faces: Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman on the court, hit the ground running, asking several questions and taking strong positions in the first week.

Jackson was confirmed to the bench last year after President Biden nominated her to fill the seat vacated by Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement. 

“Some justices are very reluctant. One thing seems clear — she was not at all reluctant,” Morrison said. 

Jackson was particularly active in questioning an argument by the state of Alabama that seeks to effectively neuter the Voting Right Act and rejected suggestions that redistricting must be done in a race-neutral way.

“We are talking about a situation in which race has already infused the voting system,” she said. 

Big cases: Morrison noted several of this term’s cases will have “enormous impact on most Americans” — and the conservative wing of the court has the upper hand.

“It’s decidedly conservative. If Chief Justice [John] Roberts is your fourth vote, you’re already in trouble,” he said.

Here are some key cases we’re watching:

1. Merrill v. Milligan: In what will be one of the most explosive cases of the term, the court is considering the state of Alabama’s objection to adding another majority-Black congressional district in its redistricting process.

More than a quarter of Alabama’s population is Black, but the state legislature has drawn its new map with just one majority-Black district out of seven, representing just 14 percent of the population.

If the court rules in favor of the state, it would be another blow to the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which is meant to prohibit discrimination.

“That would be the final nail,” Morrison said of the ultimate impact to an already watered-down VRA.

2. Affirmative action cases: Two cases before the court over race-conscious admissions at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina could ultimately decide whether affirmative action is allowed in higher education. 

3. Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency: The case addresses the scope of the Clean Water Act of 1972 — seen as a hallmark of federal environmental protection provisions.

In a dispute that has stretched more than a decade before high court heard the case, an Idaho couple is challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority over protected wetlands considered “navigable waters.” 

4. Texas and Florida’s battle against Big Tech: Texas and Florida will argue to defend laws that take aim at social media companies and censorship. If the laws take effect, platforms will not be able to prohibit or moderate content that the companies find objectionable.

Both laws came amid Republican concerns over censorship of conservative viewpoints. But critics argue they could ultimately create unsafe free-for-alls with misinformation and obscene content.

5. Wild card: Former President Trump‘s legal team has asked the Supreme Court to intervene in a legal battle over a third-party review of thousands of pages of sensitive government documents stored at his Florida estate. The court includes three of Trump’s lifetime appointees.

And hanging over all the cases: A growing partisan divide concerning the court, with justices acknowledging the internal tumult that followed the leak of the draft decision overturning Roe v. Wade earlier this year.

Welcome to NotedDC, your guide to politics, policy and people of consequence in D.C. and across the U.S. Today’s newsletter comes from The Hill’s Liz Crisp

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🎤 Walker defiant, as the hits keep coming 

HERSCHEL WALKER struck a defiant tone while speaking to the media at a lumberyard following a rally Thursday, accusing Democrats of desperation.

  • The Georgia GOP Senate candidate and former football star has faced a stream of negative stories this week surrounding his views on abortion.
  • The biggest allegation: That he encouraged a then-girlfriend to seek an abortion in 2009, then paid to cover expenses for the procedure — despite campaigning for Senate in opposition to abortion.
  • Over the past several days, Walker has also faced public condemnation from his adult son, and more questions about his personal views on abortion. Walker has repeatedly cited his past battle with mental health issues amid the turmoil.

On Thursday, Walker publicly addressed the latest allegation — that the unnamed woman at the center of the abortion claim is also the mother of one of his children — maintaining that he did not know who the woman is.

“I said it’s not correct, that’s a lie, and that’s what I mean, when that’s a lie,” he said. “[Democrats] are very desperate for this seat and I love my family and I always love my family. I’m going to win this race.”

Takeaway: Walker is locked in a tight race against Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock in one of the most high-profile Senate battles this year, with both parties wrestling for control of the upper chamber.

There’s no way for Walker to exit the race and allow another Republican to step into his spot on the ballot, so GOP leaders have been rallying around him despite the series of negative stories.

The latest polls in the race have shown Warnock with a narrow lead over Walker. 

🛢 A different kind of October surprise

President Biden acknowledged it was a “disappointment” that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its lead producer, Saudi Arabia, will cut oil production by 2 million barrels a day, but admitted it’s unclear how to fix the issue.

  • Gas prices and broader inflation has been one of the biggest headwinds for Biden and Democratic lawmakers this year, and Wednesday’s announcement by OPEC+ is expected to drive up prices after they dropped for months.
  • The move is seen as a particular blow to Democrats heading into the midterms, and Biden’s diplomacy in general. A consequential spike in prices in the run-up to Election Day could elevate an issue that’s top-of-mind for many voters.

“We’re looking at what alternatives we may have,” Biden told reporters Thursday. 

Election woes: Biden has long faced backlash from Republicans who have argued for more domestic energy production, including the opening of more offshore drilling and construction of pipelines. And the president already has tapped the country’s strategic oil reserves this year in an effort to draw down gas prices as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues. 

Biden favorability: The president just started in recent weeks to regain public support after gas prices hit record highs above $5 this summer. Officials touted this fall’s rapid drop in gas prices as a result of the president’s work to address the issue — but now they face the looming conundrum of prices rising again.

Middle East diplomacy implications: Biden set out on a dicy reversal earlier this year by traveling to Saudi Arabia and meeting with the crown prince (remember the fist bump?). He previously had said he would make the Kingdom a “pariah” and said he believed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to be responsible for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi

📺 Coming to a campaign ad near you 

More than 80 percent of the abortion providers in 15 states that adopted strict bans since the Supreme Court upended the landmark Roe v. Wade decision have stopped terminating pregnancies, according to a new report from the Guttmacher Institute, a national pro-abortion rights group.

Before the ruling, the 15 states included in the study — Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin — had a combined 79 abortion clinics. That number has dwindled to just 13 — all in Georgia, where there is a six-week ban. 

  • Abortion rights advocates say the news validates their concerns about limited access, while opponents have celebrated the effort to stamp out abortion.
  • According to Guttmacher’s findings, nearly 22 million women of reproductive age living in those states could be affected.

The election impact: The news comes as abortion has become a hot-button topic heading into the midterms, so the stat is sure to be used in campaign ads in the final campaign sprint. Republicans have already toyed with the idea of restricting abortion on the federal level if the GOP takes control of the House and Senate in January. 

BIDEN LIGHTENS UP ON US MARIJUANA POLICY 

A month out from the crucial midterm elections, President Biden has pardoned everyone convicted on a federal charge of simple marijuana possession — and he’s urging governors to do the same for people convicted on the state level. 

What it means: 6,500 people immediately received pardons under an order that Biden issued Thursday. 

Why now: A senior administration official told reporters that the decision to act now — more than a year and a half since Biden took office, after he campaigned on the idea — comes as a similar effort in Congress has “stalled.” 

“We’re almost at the end of the Congress, so the president has been considering his options, and he’s now taking executive action to address the country’s failed approach to marijuana,” the official said. 

A shift for Biden: The president has had a major evolution on marijuana over his more than four decades in public office. As a senator from Delaware and member of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden staked out a “tough on crime” position that included harsh penalties for drug offenses. 

Next move: Biden also has directed Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Attorney General Merrick Garland to review how marijuana is scheduled under federal law. Currently, marijuana is a Schedule I substance — the most dangerous category that’s the same for heroin and even higher than the classification of fentanyl, which has fueled the nation’s opioid overdose epidemic. 

NUMBER TO KNOW

$1.1 billion

Amount spent on political ads in September — the fourth-highest amount of any month ever, according to AdImpact

One more thing

New York Times star reporter and Trump whisperer Maggie Haberman, who has faced scrutiny from #resistance Twitter over her unique understanding of former President Trump, will be at Politics & Prose this Friday to discuss her book, “Confidence Man,” in a conversation with CNN’s Kaitlan CollinsDetails here

Stay with TheHill.com for the latest and recommend NotedDC to others: thehill.com/noted. See you next week!

Tags abortion access Biden Herschel Walker Ketanji Brown Jackson Ketanji Brown Jackson Maggie Haberman marijuana legalization OPEC+ President Biden President Trump Stephen Breyer
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