Recent landmark cases are being too eagerly hailed as progressive victoriesby Sionaidh Douglas-Scott / July 14, 2020 / Leave a comment
President Trump may or may not be re-elected come November, but the US Supreme Court will continue, and—given its power to determine what the US Constitution ultimately means—remain crucially important. At present, the Supreme Court has four supposedly liberal members (appointed by democratic presidents) and five supposedly conservative—including Chief Justice John Roberts—and this usually, but not universally, affects case outcomes.
In recent months, however, despite its majority conservative make up, the court has delivered apparently progressive decisions in the fields of abortion and LGBTQ rights, and a high-profile rejection of Trump’s claim to absolute immunity from criminal proceedings. This has at the very least surprised people, and even led some to suggest the court has become a force for progressive values.
This is not an accurate picture. Other decisions, such as those on religion and voting rights, are more typical, and belie any liberal drift in the court, and even those decisions that appeared more expansive and liberal were very narrowly focused. A detailed look at recent cases reveals that this is still very much a conservative court.
The court term was much altered this spring/summer due to coronavirus. Oral arguments could not be held in open court but instead were conducted over the phone and broadcast live. Nonetheless, the court managed to deliver over 50 rulings, although only a handful can be discussed here. Regretfully, this omits noteworthy cases such as Chiafolo (where the court upheld “faithless elector” laws—i.e. those state laws punishing Electoral College members who do not vote for the presidential candidate chosen by their state’s voters) and McGirt v. Oklahoma (holding that much of eastern Oklahoma is a native American reservation).
But that still leaves some highly important, controversial cases. These rulings can be grouped according to four different types: those involving Trump himself and acts of the Trump administration; high-profile cases where LGBTQ and abortion rights are at issue; cases on religion; and those on voting rights.
Access to Trump’s tax returns
In its most recent ruling, on 9th July, the Supreme Court vigorously rejected Trump’s claim to absolute presidential immunity from any legal order to release his financial records. Unlike other recent presidents, Trump has refused to publish his tax returns. However, in Trump v Vance, the court ruled that Manhattan District…