The U.S Supreme Court: Controversy Over Abortion & Gun Rights

Exterior of the US Supremem Court
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In the past few days the Supreme Court of The United States (SCOTUS) have revealed two controversial rulings that will impact the lives of ordinary Americans and will bring heartache and misery to thousands.

What Was The New York Gun Law Ruling?

On Thursday, 23rd June 2022, SCOTUS ruled that New York’s law that required a person to have a licence to carry a concealed fire arm outside of their home unconstitutionally restrictive[1]CNBC: Supreme Court strikes down New York gun law restricting concealed carry in major Second Amendment case.

This is the first time in over a decade that SCOTUS has intervened on a Second Amendment law.

The New York law required that applicants for a licence to carry a gun outside of their homes had a “proper cause” to do so. The 6-3 ruling is seen as a massive blow to the Federal Government’s drive to reduce mass shootings and death by guns and may pave the way for similar laws in 8 other states and the District of Columbia to be over turned.

What Is Roe v Wade?

The second controversial ruling was announced today, Friday 24th June 2022, after it was leaked last month and confirmed that SCOTUS was overturning the 1973 Supreme Court ruling known as “Roe v Wade” that gave pregnant people the constitutional right to an abortion at the Federal level.

The Supreme Court ruling of “Roe v Wade” had meant that individual States could not out-right ban abortion but they could restrict access to abortions as they saw fit.

It is thought that up to 25 States will now immediately ban or further limit access to abortions almost completely.

The ruling to over turn Roe v Wade passed 5-4[2]Sky News: Roe v Wade: Who are the US Supreme Court justices and what did they say about abortion and other civil rights? even though the majority of Americans citizens wanted the ability to access abortions to remain.

The ruling will mean that many people in “Red States[3]Wikipedia: Red and Blue States” will now no longer be able to have an abortion and will have to carry the pregnancy to term even in cases of rape or incest. Some states are also looking to (or have already) ban the removal of ectopic pregnacies even though these are unviable, the embryo can’t be reimplanted and may lead to death of the person carrying the ectopic pregnancy.

Some States are even trying to pass laws that will bar people from travelling out of state for abortions.

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The SCOTUS ruling will also disproportionately impact people in the BIPOC community and those on low incomes.

Given that the American Healthcare system is not free and many affected people won’t have health insurance they will be driven further into debt after having to pay an average of $15,000[4]CBS News: The cost of giving birth in each state to give birth in a hospital, assuming there are no complications and that figure is also excluding things like prenatal scans and midwife appointments.

What Is The Supreme Court Of The United States?

The Supreme Court is the highest court in the land and can rule on laws passed at State level, overturning them or codifying them into Federal Law.

In the U.K, when a vacancy arises, the Lord Chancellor convenes an independent commission who put together a short list of candidates. The candidates must meet a stringent list of criteria such as having served as a High Court judge for at least 2 years or have been in qualifying practice for at least 15 years. Candidates are then short listed based on a series of interviews and this is passed on to the Lord Chancellor who can chose a candidate which is then passed on to the Prime Minister for approval [5]The Supreme Court (UK): Appointments of Justices.

While the power to appoint a UK Supreme Court judge ends with the Prime Minister’s sign-off, the process itself is independent of any political party.

In the United States however, the process is extremely political. The nominees also don’t have to meet any requirements in order to be eligible – they don’t even have to have a background in law[6]Mental Floss: How Are Supreme Court Justices Chosen?, although most nominees do have some from of legal training.

In order to choose a new Supreme Court Justice, The President picks who they would like to stand as the nominee. The nominee is then rigorously vetted through a series of questionnaires and a hearing before the Judiciary Committee (made up of representatives from both the Republican and Democrat party and may not necessarily be evenly split).

The Judiciary committee will then send the nomination to the Senate with a recommendation to accept or refuse the nomination.

The Troubled History Of SCOTUS Nominations

This nomination process means that a sitting President could have their nomination blocked by the senate if the senate is controlled by the opposition party.

For example, in 2016, Republican Mitch McConnell (Majority Leader of the Senate) was able to block Democratic President Obama’s SCOTUS pick of Merrick Garland stating that it wouldn’t be right to pass it as it was so close to an election.

It’s important to note here that Obama had around 10 months in office left[7]USA Today: Fact check: Senate Republicans moving to confirm Trump’s Supreme Court nominee but blocked Obama’s, and this was around 8 months before the election.

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McConnell was, however, happy to pass Republican President Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to SCOTUS in an election year.

The Senate voted on October 26th 2020 to appoint Coney Barrett, just 8 days before election day.

This meant that SCOTUS now had a 5-4 Republican leaning so if there were any issues over the 2022 election, the likelihood is that they would favour the Republican candidate in their rulings.

So, the manner in which SCOTUS judges are picked is highly partisan and favours the party that controls the Senate as they can continually block presidential nominations if they do not think the candidate would be sympathetic to their political ideology.

Who Are The Members Of The Supreme Court?

The current members of SCOTUS are:

  • Clarence Thomas, appointed in 1991 by Republican President George H.W Bush.
  • Stephen Breyer, appointed in 1994 by Democratic President Bill Clinton.
  • John Roberts, appointed in 2005 by Republican President George W. Bush.
  • Samuel Aliton, appointed in 2006 by Republican President George W. Bush.
  • Sonia Sotomayor, appointed in 2009 by Democratic President Barack Obama.
  • Eleba Kagan, appointed in 2010 by Democratic President Barack Obama.
  • Neil Gorsuch, appointed in 2017 by Republican President Donald J. Trump.
  • Brett Kavanaugh, appointed in 2018 by Republican President Donald J. Trump.
  • Amy Coney Barrett, appointed in 2020 by Republican President Donald J. Trump.

What Now For Abortion & Gun Laws In The United States?

With SCOTUS now showing that they are indeed Republican leaning it will be very difficult for any state or the Federal government to legislate on gun laws and abortions as any ruling could be overturned.

The Democrats have introduced the Judiciary Act 2021 which would expand the court from 9 seats to 13[8]Stand Up America: Expanding The Supreme Court and this would address the Republican/Conservative bias of SCOTUS.

This bill will only pass if the Democrats have control of the House and Senate so with many mid-term elections coming up in the US, the future of American democracy may hang in the balance.

References

References
1 CNBC: Supreme Court strikes down New York gun law restricting concealed carry in major Second Amendment case
2 Sky News: Roe v Wade: Who are the US Supreme Court justices and what did they say about abortion and other civil rights?
3 Wikipedia: Red and Blue States
4 CBS News: The cost of giving birth in each state
5 The Supreme Court (UK): Appointments of Justices
6 Mental Floss: How Are Supreme Court Justices Chosen?
7 USA Today: Fact check: Senate Republicans moving to confirm Trump’s Supreme Court nominee but blocked Obama’s
8 Stand Up America: Expanding The Supreme Court
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